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Exploring the gap between climate change science and user needs in Senegal




February 20, 2017


AMMA-2050 held its second annual meeting in Somone, Senegal, an opportunity for nearly 50 consortium partners to gather face-to-face for exchanges across all work packages, joining climate science with impact modelling and social sciences. Rory Fitzpatrick and Jean-Pierre Roux report on the event.  Somone, Senegal. Scientists from the AMMA-2050 project and Senegalese stakeholders met to explore the gap between scientific research, and the needs and challenges of local decision-makers in the Fatick region of Senegal. West Africa is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change. Current research is providing significant improvements in our understanding of how the climate is changing over West Africa. Despite increased scientific understanding, the usefulness of improved climate knowledge can only be measured by its application beyond the academic sphere. Dr Arame Tall, the Global Framework for Climate Service Regional Coordinator for Africa, captured this objective in the opening address: “I hope that AMMA-2050 will help bridge [the] gap between research and operational service delivery.” To this end, AMMA-2050 is piloting the delivery of new climate services to the region of Fatick in Senegal. The meeting in Somone forms part of a longer process to understand the socio-economic contexts within Fatick and how climate information may assist decision-making in selected sectors and locations. 14 local stakeholders participated, including the Governor of Fatick, a local mayor, and representatives from the National Agency for Civil Aviation and Meteorology (Agence Nationale de l’aviation Civile et de la Météorologie – ANACIM), the Regional Directorate for Environment  (Direction Regional de l’Environnement et des Établissements Classés – DREEC), the National Agency for Agriculture and Rural Councils (Agence Nationale de Conseil Agricole et Rural – ANCAR) , and IED Africa. AMMA-2050 experts included local and international researchers from 15 institutions specialising in climate science, crop breeding, water resource modelling and understanding decision-making contexts. “This [meeting] is a big moment…to sit down with our partners and discuss the issues here in Senegal,” emphasised Dr Chris Taylor, Principle Investigator for AMMA-2050. Discussions highlighted the challenges facing Fatick, particularly factors that drive development and risk from high impact weather events. Alongside farming practices, other factors highlighted were land ownership, land use change, population growth and competition over natural resources (particularly between cattle breeders and farmers). Importantly, migration is often overlooked as an adaptation strategy. Migration can have a serious impact on both a country’s development (as the ability to improve one’s situation through resettlement is not often a viable adaptation method for the most at risk persons), and can inadvertently increase internal stress on food, water and institutional resources.   Discussions at the meeting highlighted the importance of understanding local governance structures to identify entry points for engagement. Many cattle breeders, for instance, do not join professional associations, and community associations are more useful entry points for engagement. With regard to national and local policy, ANACIM is responsible for informing national and local planning documents with updated climate information and may be a key mechanism for informing policy. Dr Mbaye Diop , a member of the Regional Committee on Climate Change (Comité Regional sur les Changements Climatiques – COMREC), highlighted the opportunity to include expert advice from AMMA-2050 in the update of the five-year Fatick Territorial Development Plan and issued a request for support to integrate climate information into this policy. The balance of importance between seasonal weather information and climate change strategies, coupled with a lack of sufficient understanding among stakeholders of what climate change means remain central challenges to piloting climate services in this context. Several stakeholders questioned the need for considering climate change information. As stated by Dr. Cheikh Tidiane Wade, who works with IED Africa: “Farmers often ask ‘Why is climate change suddenly important? The climate has always been changing.’” Yet ANACIM noted increased interest in climate change amongst farmers, but emphasised the need to focus services on practical actions that can be taken in the short term. Furthermore, it is important for any intervention to be inclusionary, focusing on women and more vulnerable groups. Climate change research should aim to reduce the risk for all members of society, and not just those with the socio-economic standing to adapt. The meeting also offered an opportunity for stakeholders to clarify more specific climate metrics that they would find useful, and the format in which information can be provided. Stakeholders identified priorities as:
  • Rainfall (number of rainfall days, patterns of onset date and in-season drying);
  • Strong winds – these are common and can be very destructive;
  • Radiation – stakeholders noted that it is not uncommon for crops to reach maturity but not yield much due to low radiation;
  • Humidity; and
  • Extreme events such as floods, false onsets and lightning.
The stakeholders also identified other metrics that climate scientists were not currently looking at but that would be of interest to them, such as off-season rainfall. One stakeholder gave an example of how such off-season rains, although rare can be harmful, pointing out that some breeders lost up to 35 head of cattle and 100 other small ruminants due to sudden drop in temperatures resulting from a rainfall event outside the growing season. The engagement event demonstrates the complexities of integrating stakeholders’ needs and experiences with climate change studies. AMMA-2050 researchers noted the need to develop greater collective capacity around communicating climate information more effectively- in particular, what technical data and diagrams / plots to use in presentations and how to communicate uncertainty. To respond to the needs of both groups (researchers and stakeholders) such participatory events need a solid plan with clear goals and using alternative approaches such as serious games can aid in achieving the needs of both groups. AMMA-2050 aims to have substantial impact on the livelihood of West African farmers in the long term. The central investment that has been made in improving the skill and usefulness of climate information is key. However, the project will have to demonstrate this by pushing beyond “useful” to “used” information. Getting climate information used requires investment from researchers, institutions and decision-makers in iterative processes that converge the limits of the latest science with the contexts of decision-makers, whilst building trust and communicating climate change information in simple, usable and useful ways. “Without this bridge [between research and end users], research is useless,” noted the Governor of Fatick, Mr Mbengue. Dr David Adukpo, AMMA-2050 researcher at University of Cape Coast, emphasised the need for building trust: “There can be a fear that scientists want to use farmers and decision-makers as guinea pigs to further individual research and careers… Whatever results we find in AMMA-2050, let us never forget the people on the ground…let’s work hand in hand with them.”