ICTs and Farmers’ Decision-Making: New Tools for Climate Change Adaptation?
The way in which decisions are taken plays a key role within climate change adaptation.
Access to relevant information, the skills required to apply that information into local practices, the availability of traditional knowledge and experience, the perception of risk, the sense of social identity and the existence of social networks and institutions that can either advise, enable or constrain actions, are just some of the factors that play a role in adaptive decision-making processes.
The complexity of such processes is exacerbated within contexts characterized by increasing climatic uncertainty, more frequent and intense seasonality, limited access to information, poverty and resource constrains. And it is within these contexts that Developing country farmers are facing tough decisions that can either hinder or strengthen their ability to cope and adapt to the challenges posed by the changing climate.
Experiences from the field suggest that “environment related information ranks high in the needs of rural populations in developing countries” (Karanasios, 2011, Panchard et al., 2007), and that the increasing diffusion of technologies such as mobile phones provides a potentially powerful platform for the dissemination of relevant information.
But the availability of information is not enough to foster processes of adaptation and change.
Could Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as cell phones, the Internet and related applications help to strengthen farmers’ decision making and to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change?
A recent report titled “Decisions Made by Farmers that Relate to Climate Change” (Hogan et al., 2011) explores the factors that play a role in adaptive decision making, and provides a good basis to reflect on the potential of ICT tools -and innovative approaches- within farmer’s adaptive decisions.
Based on the findings of the report, the following areas of ICT potential in decision-making can be identified:
- ICTs helping Farmers Transition from Short-term to Long-term Planning
By facilitating the production and access to climate models and projections, ICTs can contribute to the identification of future and emerging risks and opportunities associated with climate change. Local decision-making can be informed by alternative scenarios, and the diversification of livelihoods, farming practices, or skill sets required to deal with change can be considered as part of long-term planning.
- ICTs helping to Bridge the Gap between Researchers, Advisers and Farmers
By making climate change-related information more accessible and relevant to the local actors (e.g. through Web-based materials designed in the local language and addressing local priorities, or through text messages with simple, strategic content delivered to farmers’ cell phones) ICTs can contribute to improve the information and knowledge sharing between key stakeholders.
- ICTs helping to Strengthen the Links between Scientific and Traditional Knowledge
By providing a platform to document and share both scientific and traditional knowledge through blogs, audio-files or community videos, among others, ICTs can help to strengthen adaptive practices, learning and social identity.
- ICTs helping to Foster Inclusion and Connectedness
By enhancing participation, monitoring and exchange between community members and broader networks, the use of ICTs can help to ‘give a voice’ to groups and individuals that could be, otherwise, excluded. The use of tools such as mobile phones and the Internet can contribute to community-based environmental monitoring, while ICT-capacity building can strengthen local-empowerment and the ability to self-organise in response to external climatic disturbances.
In sum, providing relevant information for long-term planning, building on multi-level and multi-sectorial synergies, linking both new and traditional knowledge, and facilitating more inclusive processes, are some of the areas in which ICT tools can contribute to local decision-making, helping vulnerable groups -such as farmers- to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change.
Further research on these emerging areas could help inform the design and implementation of public policies and innovative adaptation strategies within developing environments.