G.R.O.W. S.M.A.R.T.: The Farmer's Essential Guide to Thriving in the Face of El Niño and Other Climate Challenges

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Excellence in Agronomy Initiative Launches Campaign to Disseminate El Niño Information/Advisory to Smallholder Farmers in Africa

 The CGIAR. Excellence in Agronomy Initiative (EiA) has announced its plans to collaborate with other stakeholders in Southern Africa to disseminate critical El Niño information and advice through the G.R.O.W. S.M.A.R.T. campaign using a diverse range of platforms. The collaboration will extend to CGIAR Centers, government departments, ministries, and partners throughout Southern Africa, including AICCRA (Accelerating Impact of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Ukama Ustawi, Mixed Farming Systems, the Accelerated Innovation Delivery Initiative (AID-I) and Solidaridad.

El Niño, a recurring climate pattern that occurs every 2-7 years, is notorious for its potential to unleash devastating droughts and floods on a global scale. Specific parts of Africa, in particular, are highly susceptible to the adverse effects of El Niño, placing the food security of millions of farmers and their families at risk of food insecurity. The effects of El Nino are different for different parts of the continent. Some places will get less rain while others will get more.

“In anticipation of the impending El Nino weather patterns for the year 2023/24, we take the opportunity to unveil the ultimate resource for farmers to overcome potential hurdles and ensure agricultural success,” said Mandlenkosi Nkomo, Chief Growth Officer, Excellence in Agronomy Initiative.

Presenting G.R.O.W. S.M.A.R.T., an innovative and comprehensive guide designed to empower farmers in the face of El Nino-related adversities. G.R.O.W. S.M.A.R.T. is not just an acronym; it’s a roadmap to resilience. Each letter signifies a crucial step in securing a farmer’s harvest and effectively navigating the challenges posed by El Nino. To break it down:

  1. G – “Get the Right Varieties”: Choose drought-tolerant crops that mature quickly.
  2. R – “Retain Soil Moisture”: Conserve moisture with smart farming practices.
  3. O- “Optimal Planting”: Ensure proper plant spacing for efficient water use.
  4. W – “Well-Managed Soil”: Implement good soil management techniques.
  5. S – “Suppress Weeds”: Control weeds to reduce water competition.
  6. M – “Maximize Manure and Fertilizers”: Use organic matter for moisture retention.
  7. A – “Apply Fertilizers Wisely”: Optimize fertilizer usage to maximize use efficiency (and save water).
  8. R – ”  Reduce Risk by diversifying crops ” Plant a variety of crops to spread the risk.
  9. T – “Timely Planting”: Pay attention to weather reports for the best planting time

The collaboration will capitalize on existing alliances and platforms to disseminate critical information on El Niño to smallholder farmers across Southern Africa.

Bernard Vanlauwe, Initiative Lead, CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy Initiative, underscored the pivotal role of smallholder farmers in Africa’s agricultural sector, stating, “Smallholder farmers are the backbone of Africa’s agricultural sector, providing sustenance to the continent. However, they are also among the most vulnerable to the repercussions of climate change. The EiA Initiative is unwavering in its dedication to assisting farmers in adapting to these changes and building resilience in the face of El Niño and other extreme weather events.”

The EiA initiative, implementation partners, government, and met departs are fully committed to furnishing farmers with timely and accurate information on weather conditions and best agronomic practices, empowering them to mitigate the adverse impacts of El Niño and build resilience.

The EiA team has curated extensive databases from CGIAR research and climate data, as well as data from agronomic observations with farmers, employing a variety of Use Cases and advisory methods. These insights and achievements will be a foundation for the El Niño message rollout.

The campaign will harness existing and newly forged relationships, tapping into the wealth of databases and linking with established use cases. The groundwork includes deep-rooted partnerships that have stood the test of time.

By leveraging existing platforms and partnerships, the campaign is working to reach millions of smallholder farmers with timely and accurate information on El Niño, empowering them to mitigate the impacts of this climate phenomenon and build resilience for a more sustainable future.

The EiA initiative is a timely and essential intervention that will provide much-needed support to smallholder farmers in Africa as they face the challenges of El Niño and other climate-related challenges. By working together, we can empower farmers and build resilience for a more sustainable future.

Key Features of the El Niño Advisory will give farmers quarterly and precise information on weather conditions and best agronomic practices through various channels, including  Short Message Service  SMS messaging, interactive voice response (IVR) platforms, radio broadcasts, and mobile apps. The campaign will also build the capacity of agricultural extension services to equip farmers with advice and support for climate adaptation.

The El Niño campaign is anticipated to substantially impact millions of smallholder farmers in Southern Africa and reduce their vulnerability to El Niño and other extreme weather events. The Initiative will leverage strong alliances and extensive databases curated through previous work to harness existing and newly forged relationships to reach farmers through familiar and accessible channels, including SMS messaging, IVR, radio broadcasts, and mobile apps.

This timely and essential intervention will equip smallholder farmers with the knowledge and tools to mitigate the adverse impacts of El Niño and other climate-related challenges, building resilience for a more sustainable future.

Southern Africa is targeted explicitly for early interventions due to their increased risk of extreme weather and a subsequent negative effect on vulnerable smallholder farmers.

“By building on our existing partnerships and tapping into new opportunities, the EiA initiative is committed to ensuring that El Niño messages reach farmers through the channels that matter most to them. This collaborative effort will empower farmers and build resilience in the face of climate-related challenges, safeguarding food security and livelihoods across Southern Africa, concluded Bernard.”

The CGIAR centres that are involved in EiA include AfricaRice, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

About the CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy Initiative

The CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy Initiative was launched in 2020 to improve outcomes for smallholder farmers amidst climate change. EiA is supported by the CGIAR Big Data Platform and will combine big data analytics, new sensing technologies, geospatial decision tools, and farming systems research to come up with scalable agronomic innovations for agricultural development. The initiative is not only responding to demand from the public and private sector but will also help increase efficiencies through stronger collaboration and cross-learning among CGIAR centers and within the broader agronomy R&D ecosystem. More information can be found on the CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy website. Follow the CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy (EiA) Initiative on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, for updates and information.

Media Contact:

Barbra Sehlule Muzata

CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy Initiative


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