Benin: Farmers learn to work with an uncertain climate (Farm Radio Weekly, International Development Research Centre)

| June 30, 2008

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The crop cycle in southern Benin used to be familiar and predictable. In the township of Tori-Bossito, farmers planned their maize crops around two dry seasons and two rainy seasons. Maize grown between March and July dried under September’s sun, ready to be planted next season.

Climate change has dramatically altered this familiar planting cycle. Rains now come during the traditional dry season, rotting maize that has been left to dry. When rainy seasons come, they often arrive in storms that can wash away seeds and soil. Drought is also more common.

Nathalie Beaulieu is a Senior Program Officer for the International Development Research Centre, or IDRC, Climate Change Adaptation Program. She says the agricultural calendar is being rewritten. IDRC is working with local and international NGOs to support Beninoise farmers coping with this change.

Farmers in 35 Beninoise villages are now working together to track changes in climate and weather. The project has two parts. The first is a pre-alert system for short-term weather patterns that affect farmers’ planting decisions. Communities are working with local NGOs to collect information about the risk of droughts and tropical storms. Through community radio, entire communities will be warned if severe weather is predicted.

In the second part of the project, farmers will reflect on the changes to rainy and dry seasons that they have observed over the past 30 years. Ms. Beaulieu says that, while predicting short-term weather is important, it is even more important for farmers to familiarize themselves with new seasonal patterns.

The project also aims to shore up farmer skills at mitigating the impact of drought and flood. Farmers are gathering in field schools to experiment with techniques developed in countries with similar climatic conditions, such as Burkina Faso.

Farmers will experiment with landscaping techniques that can help land retain water so that heavy rains are less likely to wash away soil. They will also work with organic fertilizers such as compost and manure. Unlike chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizer helps land conserve moisture.

Lastly, farmers’ field schools will study drought resistant crops and short-season varieties to determine what works best in the Beninoise climate. Ms. Beaulieu explained that when climate is uncertain, short-cycle and drought tolerant crops are crucial to ensuring food security.