Who gets the information? Gender, power and equity considerations in the design of climate services for farmers.
Central to understanding the usefulness of climate and weather forecasts in support of agricultural decision-making is addressing the issue of who receives what information. Many contend that improved climate forecasts since the late 1990s have had limited impact on smallholder farming communities in Africa and across the developing world. However, power and privilege may determine who has access to appropriate climate and advisory services within those communities. In 2011-2012, we tested this hypothesis in three climate-vulnerable farming communities in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security semi-arid research site of Kaffrine, Senegal. Therein, we assessed gender-specific vulnerabilities to climate-related shocks, endogenous adaptation strategies, and coping mechanisms. From the gap between vulnerability and local capacity, we deduced farmers' climate service needs, and then assessed whether these systematically differed between distinct vulnerable sub-groups within the community - chiefly, between male and female farmers. In 2011 we introduced a seasonal climate forecast for the first time in the community, and explored perceptions of forecast access, usefulness and value, by both men and women. We find that within vulnerable farming communities in Kaffrine, the impact of increasing climate risk is not equally distributed through the population. Moreover, within a community, patterns of unequal access to climate information and advisory services exist, differentiating between community sub-groups that can and cannot make use of incoming climate services to improve their management of climate risks and strengthen their resilience to a changing climate at farm-level. Gender-specific climate service needs exist, both in terms of type of climate information and advisory needed (women farmers for instance reported needing a forecast of rainfall cessation, not onset) and nature of communication channels required to reach the most vulnerable; and we found these differences to be mediated by place-specific socio-cultural realities. Place- and gender-specific needs must inform the design of new climate services for farmers to ensure enhanced equity and effectiveness of such services at the local level. The gender 'blind spot' of current national adaptation policies must be replaced by gender-responsive adaptation policies. By reducing the vulnerability of women and other marginalized groups through strengthened resilience in the face of increasingly frequent and severe climate-related shocks, such changes will reduce the overall vulnerability of farmers in Kaffrine and other communities facing similar climate challenges.