CR 33:111-122 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/cr033111

Who can eat information? Examining the effectiveness of seasonal climate forecasts and regional climate-risk management strategies

Coleen Vogel1,*, Karen O’Brien2

1School of Geography, Archaeology & Environmental Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, 2050 Johannesburg, South Africa
2Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, PO Box 1096, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway

ABSTRACT: Southern Africa is a region facing multiple stressors, including chronic, recurrent food insecurity and persistent threats of famine. Climate information, including seasonal climate forecasts, has been heralded as a promising tool for early-warning systems and agricultural risk management in southern Africa. Nevertheless, there is concern that climate information, for example climate forecasts, are not realizing their potential value in the region. The present study considers the actual and potential roles played by climate information in reducing food insecurity in southern Africa from 2 perspectives. The first relates to improved understanding of the contextual environment in which end users operate and use information. Users, including farmers, usually operate in an environment of considerable uncertainty, reacting to and coping with multiple stressors whose impacts are not always clear or predictable. The second perspective relates to improving the current design and variety of mechanisms (e.g. climate outlook forums) for the dissemination and uptake of climate information. The first relates to improved understanding of the contextual environment in which end users operate and use information. Users, including farmers, usually operate in an environment of considerable uncertainty, reacting to and coping with multiple stressors whose impacts are not always clear or predictable. The second perspective relates to improving the current design and variety of mechanisms (e.g. climate outlook forums) for the dissemination and uptake of climate information. Climate information, it is argued, used in isolation (e.g. in ‘stand alone’ climate outlook forums) and undertaken in a traditional, linear fashion, where information is moved from producer to user, is divorced from the broader, complex social context in which such information is embedded. This current articulation of climate information flow represents an ineffective means of dealing with climate variability and food security. Alternative modes of interaction (e.g. using existing platforms to ‘piggy-back’ information or seeking appropriate ‘boundary organisations’) should be found to sustainably manage climate risks in the region.


KEY WORDS: Climate information · Food security · Mainstreaming climate information · Sustainable development


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