A weather forecasting project in the north-eastern state of West Bengal aims to collect data that farmers can generate into five-day forecasts. Unlike the usual regional forecasts, transmitted by text message or on television, where people discuss their interpretations of the data to create community-specific forecasts that are written on a chalkboard in the village.
The monsoon season in West Bengal has grown fickle with climate change, with heavy rainfall and dry gaps, said Kendall. The forecasts can help farmers judge whether it will rain enough to flood their rice fields when it’s time to transplant the seedlings, and the best time to cut and dry the harvest in the sun, he said.
Farmer Hermanta Murmu, for instance, saved about 325 rupees ($4.70) in pumped water and labor costs when he decided to delay irrigation of his mixed crop fields because he saw rain in the forecast. “The incident helped to enhance faith among fellow farmers on this weather forecast system,” according to the centre. Mongal Kisku also saved about 470 rupees by irrigating his vegetable field with rainwater, while others have used the advisory to fight off insect infestations in their mango and potato crops.
In the drought-prone western state of Maharashtra, farmers have switched to cash crops such as sugar, cotton and soy over the past decade. These take longer to grow than cereals or vegetables, and need more water, according to the grassroots women’s organisation Swayam Shikshan Prayog. The use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides also increased during the longest dry spell in the region’s history, between 2012 and 2016, which decimated the land forced the government to send water in by train.
Swayam Shikshan Prayog researched sustainable and nutritional agriculture in the state over three years, then turned to teaching women farmers to work with less water. The aim is simultaneously empower women in Maharashtra, who are traditionally treated as labourers rather than decision-makers, but carry the responsibility of feeding their families.