Awareness of climate change: An issue pack

    | December 14, 2009

    Download this story

    As the United Nations Climate Change Conference continues in Copenhagen, the international news has been flooded with coverage. You may be searching for ways to produce local radio programming on climate change – programming that addresses the particular concerns and information needs of your listening audience. This week’s featured “script” is designed to help you do just that. It is an issue pack. It presents the scientific basics of climate change in Africa and suggests a number of approaches to producing programs on farmers and rural communities adapting to climate change.

    This issue pack is the first item in Farm Radio International’s latest script package on Farmers Adapting to Climate Change. This script package also includes issue packs about soil fertility and water harvesting, in addition to scripts. Stay tuned to next week’s FRW for another sneak peak at the new script package!

    Notes to broadcaster

    Climate change is often presented in the media as a horror story, a disaster waiting to happen. It’s true that most scientists agree that, even if the nations of the world manage to strongly cut emissions of greenhouse gases, the global climate is still going to change, in many ways for the worse. And small-scale African farmers are among those who will be most affected by these changes, both because they are dependent on the weather and because they are often poor. But African farmers have great strength and resilience. They are experienced at dealing with changes in the weather and have a rich heritage of methods to deal with these kinds of changes.

    So African farmers can prepare for and adapt to the negative effects of climate change. But only if they understand it and know its impacts. While there is a great deal of information available on climate change, most is not aimed at a farming audience. When developing programs on climate change, the challenge for radio broadcasters is to ensure that their audience understands climate change messages, finds them relevant, and is encouraged to interact with the radio station and with their community to help adapt to climate changes.

    This issue sheet begins with two stories about farmers and climate change. It then offers some background information on the science of climate change, and talks about how radio can help strengthen farmers’ response to climate change. Next, it suggests some starting points for creating locally relevant radio programs on adaptation to climate change. Finally, it points to various resources on climate change – radio programs, documents, and organizations.

    A. Stories
    Augustine Yelfaanibe is a 36-year-old farmer in Nandom, a small town in the Upper West Region of Ghana. He remembers that when he was young, signs of rainy weather were obvious by mid-March. Most farmers prepared their land soon after the New Year. This ensured an early harvest, with enough food to survive the lean season.

    Insufficient rain used to be unusual. But over the past 20 years it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to predict when the rains will begin. When they start late, they are often more variable than before. Every year, says Mr. Yelfaanibe, farmers have one of two complaints: “I harvested less because the rains failed,” or, “My crops did not do well this year because the rains were too much.”

    In 2007, rains were meager at the beginning of the rainy season. Most crops had almost died by the time the rains returned very heavily, causing serious floods. In 2008, most farmers planted their staple crops very late, at a time when beans are usually flowering and groundnut is normally harvested. According to Mr. Yelfaanibe, some year-round streams and ponds are drying up just a few months after the end of the rains. During the dry season, animals do not have enough water.

    By the peak of the lean season, most households have exhausted their food supply and are barely hanging on for the new harvest. The lean season used to be relatively short. But for some households, it now begins as early as April and may continue until the middle of September.

    Joseph Kones is a 57-year-old farmer in Bomet District, western Kenya, with a wife and eight children. His main cash crops are maize and tea. Other crops include beans, peas, Irish potatoes and tomatoes, which he sells at the local market. He keeps dairy cows and goats for milk.

    Joseph remembers that there were regular rains when he was young, especially in April and November. But now it rains at any time of the year. This makes farm planning difficult. In 2008, the rains were late. When they came, they were very heavy and soils were waterlogged.

    Food production has decreased because people are not sure when to plant. Some people have been forced to rely on government donations of food, something that has not happened in Joseph’s lifetime.

    A few years ago, a drought caused a local river to dry up, something Joseph had never seen. In 2006, there were very heavy rains in the dry months. All the rivers were flooded, and there was heavy destruction of crops.

    Joseph is now a board member of the Mara River Water Organisation. This group is trying to stop the river from drying out due to changes in climate, and to help farmers regain fertile and moist soil. Joseph’s farm is used as a pilot project. The group has planted trees and built terraces to store water. Joseph believes that these skills in adapting to climate changes are essential for the future survival of his community.

    B. Background information

    What is climate change? While the earth’s climate is always being modified by natural causes, the climate change we are talking about here is the result of human actions. Human-driven climate change is caused by producing “greenhouse gases” and releasing them into the atmosphere. The three most important greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. They are called “greenhouse gases” because their presence in the earth’s atmosphere traps heat and makes the earth inhabitable. This is just like how a greenhouse captures the sun’s heat and keeps it from returning to the atmosphere, which heats the greenhouse. Without these greenhouse gases, the temperature on earth would be 30 degrees cooler, because all the energy from the sun would simply be reflected back into space.

    Carbon dioxide and the other gases are produced by actions such as burning fuels, transportation, industrial activities, oil flaring, farming activities, and felling of trees. Raising livestock is responsible for about one third of human emissions of methane and more than two thirds of human emissions of nitrous oxide. Methane is released as a natural by-product of animal digestion, and nitrous oxide is released when nitrogen fertilizer not taken up by plants is released as a gas.

    As the world’s population has grown, so has human consumption of fossil fuels and other activities which produce greenhouse gases. As the levels of greenhouse gases rise in the atmosphere, they block more of the sun’s heat from leaving. Since the heat cannot leave, it continues to warm the earth. Over the next 100 years, it is predicted that world temperatures will rise between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius. Temperatures have already risen by 0.6 degrees since the early 1900s. When temperatures rise, moisture evaporates more quickly, drying air and soil. As the world warms, many things happen: glaciers melt, deserts expand, the weather becomes more unpredictable, pest and disease problems change, and natural disasters become more frequent.

    Small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to be among those most strongly affected by climate change, due to their dependence on rain-fed agriculture and their lower capacity to adapt to climatic changes. The effects of climate change are already occurring in Africa and elsewhere. The rainy season is more unpredictable: late onsets, droughts in the middle of the season, and early cessation. When rains do come, they can be very intense. Unless actions are taken to adapt to these changes, intense rains can cause flooding, erosion and loss of soil and crops.

    In already dry areas, decreased rain and higher temperatures will mean that less water is available. Soils will dry, and be more susceptible to erosion and loss of nutrients. All these changes will degrade the soil, and make growing crops and getting good yields more difficult. It is predicted that the combination of all of these factors means that crop and livestock yields will decrease. Higher temperatures may also increase the incidence of pests and diseases. For example, malaria has recently increased in the highlands of Rwanda and Tanzania.

    There is hope, however, that farmers can adapt to the effects of climate change. Farmers, researchers and extension workers can share information about the many methods available to improve the current and future situation. In truth, Africa has the potential and the opportunity to not only satisfy its own needs, but to develop into a major agricultural contributor to the rest of the world.

    Climate Change in Africa: Scientists who study the earth’s climate find it difficult to predict exactly how climate change will affect the African continent. There simply isn’t enough information to make precise or reliable predictions. However, they are confident that with “business as usual”, the climate in Africa will become more variable and rainfall patterns will change. By 2020, yields from rain-fed farming could drop by 50% in some areas. By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people could experience increased water stress due to climate change. Over the next 50 years, it is likely to become drier in the northern and southern parts of the continent and wetter near the equator. But there will be large regional variations. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and dust storms is expected to increase. By the end of the 21st century, sea-level rise is likely to affect low-lying coastal areas, causing erosion and flooding. Higher water levels and increased ocean temperatures will also have a negative impact on coastal fisheries.

    Importance of Communication and Information in Climate Change Adaptation: African farmers can prepare for and adapt to the negative effects of climate change. But only if they understand it and know its potential impacts. While many farmers already use strategies to cope with varying conditions, as weather becomes less predictable, some of these strategies may no longer work. Previously effective strategies may require additional information and modifications by individual farmers and communities in order to remain of value. Effective communication of useful information will be critical to help farmers adapt to climate change.

    Radio is the most effective way to reach African farmers and to allow them to share their knowledge and experience. African farmers are experienced at dealing with climatic variations and have a rich heritage of methods to deal with changes. There are no “magic bullets” to adapting to climate change. Simply, the more resilient a farming system, the more likely it is to adapt successfully to changes in climate.

    There is a great deal of information available on climate change. But most is not aimed at a farming audience. The challenge for radio broadcasters is to ensure that their audience understands climate change messages and finds them relevant. For example, when researching a radio program on climate change, it may be more useful to ask a farmer about changing weather or how she has changed the crops she grows than to ask her how she is coping with climate change.

    Radio can encourage communities to assess local problems and identify local solutions to climate change. Communities can be encouraged to establish action plans to increase their resilience and reduce their vulnerability. Plenty of research in Africa, for example the Climate Change Adapatation in Africa (CCAA) research and capacity development program, a joint program of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada and the Department for International Development (DFID), U.K., is testing new approaches for farmers to adapt to climate change. Some research looks at the traditional approaches farmers have relied on for centuries, and other projects test new methods. Radio organizations can play an important role by publicizing these research results and transforming them into programs that their audiences can understand and use. And by interviewing local farmers, radio organizations can pass on information, including how farmers from different communities adapt to droughts, improve soil fertility, and select which crops to grow.

    Radio programs that talk to farmers about climate change can provide researchers with knowledge of what is happening at the field level and encourage communication between researchers and farmers. These discussions can then result in adaptation strategies that combine traditional and scientific knowledge.

    C. Examples of radio programs

    Seven radio programs in CTA’s Rural Resource Pack on Climate change and natural resource management can be accessed at, including:

    a. Understanding leads to change – A senior agricultural extension officer for Matabeleland North province in Zimbabwe describes how the extension service is helping farmers to cope with less reliable rainfall.
    b. Conserving soils and water – A coordinator for Zambia’s Programme Against Malnutrition explains methods of conservation farming which can help to conserve both soil moisture and nutrients in areas experiencing dry spells.
    c. A clearer picture of change – A climate expert from the UK discusses how improved understanding and information about changing weather patterns in Africa should improve the response of governments and people.
    d. Zimbabwe’s Dryland Research Station – A crops specialist and a livestock specialist from the Matopos research station describe technologies being developed to support smallholder farmers experiencing drought.
    e. Adaptive farming to reduce risk – A researcher from an international crop research institute in Nairobi explains how new crop varieties are helping farmers to adapt what they plant to suit variable rainfall patterns.
    f. Responding to drought in Malawi – A senior agricultural officer describes the steps being taken by the extension services in Malawi to enable farmers to overcome the challenge of drought.
    g. Adapt or fail – the coffee experience – A report from northern Tanzania featuring staff of a coffee estate and smallholder farmers, who describe how they are either succeeding or failing to cope with reduced rainfall.

    D. Production ideas

    There are many ways to create radio programming on adaptation to climate change. Here are a few:

    • Interview farming families whose food security and income have been threatened by climate change. Also interview farming families whose food security has been improved by making changes in their farming and livelihood system to adapt to a changing climate.

    • Write and produce a five-minute drama about a farmer who has made changes in the crops he or she grows, has begun to harvest water, has improved soil fertility, etc., in response to the changing climate. Contrast these farmers’ stories with a neighbouring farmer who has not adapted to the changing climate.

    • Interview individual farmers or members in a farmers’ group about how they are coping with changing weather. These interviews might be best conducted in the field, but could be also done in the studio. Ask the farmers:

    • What changes have you noticed in the weather?
    • Have you made any changes to your farming and livelihood in response to changes in the weather?
    • Have you received advice from extension workers, farmers, or other people on how to adapt to the changing climate?
    • What are the barriers to adopting some of the changes that have been suggested?

    • Interview an expert on adapting farming to climate change from a national or international agricultural research institute, an agricultural university, or an NGO. Questions to ask include:
    • What kinds of climate change adaptation have proven successful in your country, your region, or your community?
    • Are these approaches affordable and practical for small-scale farmers? If not, what barriers might prevent small-scale farmers from adopting them? How can these barriers be overcome?
    • How is information about successful adaptation approaches being communicated to farmers?
    • Are there successful indigenous or traditional methods for adapting to the changing climate?
    • Are there new varieties or new crops available in the area that might help farmers adapt to the shifting rainy season?
    • Are there soil or water management practices that might help farmers adapt to climate change?

    • Produce a call-in or text-in program. Invite a climate change expert to the studio, and ask callers to call or text questions about how to adapt to the climate changes they experience. The expert could be, for example, a farmer, an academic researcher, or an extension agent.

    • Produce 4-6 radio spots which explain the importance of adapting to the changing climate Each spot could start with the same “punchy” lead line and discuss one important element of an integrated approach, including:
    • using drought-tolerant or short-season crops and crop varieties
    • low-cost ways to improve soil fertility
    • low-cost ways to maximize the benefits of available water
    • ways to protect your crops and soil from damage by heavy rain or flooding
    • forming a farmers’ group to finance adaptation to the changing weather

    • Host or chair a roundtable discussion on the changing weather in your community. Invite representatives from various groups: civic and traditional leaders, leaders of women’s groups, educators, health professionals, NGO representatives, and concerned citizens.
    • Broadcast live from a community meeting in which community members discuss and make decisions on responding to the changing weather. Subsequent programs could provide updates on discussions or progress on solutions, produce and air public service announcements which mobilize community support for projects, and cover community celebrations that mark successful projects.
    • Interview members of nearby (or distant) communities that have successfully addressed the changing climate. Follow up with a call-in or text-in program which considers whether these solutions would work for your community.
    • Hold a poetry contest: invite listeners to submit poems about adapting to climate change and offer a prize to the “best poem.” Read all the good submissions on the air.

    E. Further resources Documents

    1. James Fahn, 2009. Climate change: how to report the story of the century.
    2. PANOS London, 2006. Whatever the weather: media attitudes towards reporting climate change. Available for download at
    3. Practical Action, no date. Climate change diary: Sudan.
    4. CTA Rural Radio Resource Packs: Climate change and natural resource management. Word document –Technical information, pack usage details, resources and full scripts. Available for download at
    5. International Trade Centre/WTO and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), 2007. Organic farming and climate change.
    6. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 2009. Focus 16: Agriculture and Climate Change: An Agenda for Negotiation in Copenhagen.
    7. Via Campesina, no date. Small scale sustainable farmers are cooling down the earth: background paper.
    8. Kirsten Ulsrud, Linda Sygna and Karen O’Brien, 2008. More than Rain: Identifying Sustainable Pathways for Climate Adaptation and Poverty Reduction.
    9. Stockholm Environment Institute, 2008. Climate change and adaptation in African agriculture.
    10. Videos:
    i. Climate changes in ACP Nations, Part 1 and 2.
    ii. Taking the heat. Canadian Foodgrains Bank, parts 1 and 2. and


    Research institutions:
    • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) supporting research institutions:
    o NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA):
    o UK Met Office/ Hadley Centre (United Kingdom):, and
    o CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France):
    • CSAG (Climate Systems Analysis Group) at University of Cape Town (UCT):
    • ACMAD (Africa Centre for Meteorological Applications for Development), based in Niamey, Niger:
    • IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC). ICPAC is a regional climate centre based in Nairobi, Kenya:
    • Global Climate Observing System (GCOS):
    • SEI (Stockholm Environment Institute):
    • START International (Global Change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training):
    • NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research):
    • The Southern Africa Development Community Drought Monitoring Centre (SADC-DMC):
    • Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS):

    Institutions involved in adaptation initiatives:
    • African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Nairobi, Kenya:
    • AGRHYMET :
    • Centre de Suivi Écologique (CSE), Dakar, Sénégal:
    • Consultative Group on International Research (CGIAR) institutions working on climate change initiatives:
    • Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR):
    • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT):
    • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI):
    • International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI):
    • World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF):
    • Environnement et développement du tiers monde (ENDA-TM), Dakar, Sénégal:
    • Faculty of Natural Resources Management and Agriculture, Midland State University (Zimbabwe):
    • Family Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET):
    • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO):
    • Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA):
    • Initiatives pour un Développement Intégré et Durable (IDID_ONG), Bénin :
    • Innovations, Environnement Développement en Afrique (IED), Sénégal:
    • Institut de l’Environnement et des Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso :
    • Institute of Resource Assessment (IRA) at U. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania:
    • International Development Research Centre (IDRC)/Department for International Development (DfID) Climate Change Adaptation in Africa program:
    • Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI):
    • Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI):
    • Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team (NEST):
    • Practical Action, Nairobi, Kenya:
    • SouthSouthNorth (SSN) operates both as a local NGO (SSN Africa) and as an international network (SSN group) with a central office in Cape Town, South Africa:
    • UNITAR – the ACCCA program:
    • Universite Cheikh Anta Diop (Sénégal):
    • Université d’Antananarivo (Madagascar):
    • University of Benin:
    • AfricaAdapt: AfricaAdapt is a new platform for learning and sharing knowledge about climate change adaptation. It is a bilingual pan-African networking initiative, which includes collaborations from IDS, University of Sussex, FARA, ICPAC and ENDA. It is a space where broadcasters and others can add information, follow particular projects, and profile their work. You can join by following this link: For more on AfricaAdapt, see: Here is the link to their most recent English Newsletter:
    • Joto Afrika is a new series of printed briefings and online resources about climate change adaptation in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the product of collaborations between AfricaAdapt, the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), and id21. The first volume deals with climate change as a threat to food security. Future issues will focus on: managing water resources; climate change and human health; and climate change and pastoralists. Volume one of Joto Afrika is posted (in French) on the AfricaAdapt homepage. An English version is available at

    Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, managing editor, Farm Radio International
    Reviewed by: John Stone, Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University.

    Information sources

    Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Climate Witness program.

    Special thanks to the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA) program, a joint initiative of Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), for supporting this script package on climate change adaptation.

    Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)