How accurate forecasting can help farmers make better decisions

The study was by Harris School of Public Policy and the Energy Policy Institute


Providing farmers with highly accurate monsoon forecasts, four to seek weeks in advance, enables them make better investment decisions. This is how countries can protect their economies from climate change, a new study by the Harris School of Public Policy and the Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) at the University of Chicago’s India office has found.

Fiona Burling, assistant professor, School and Director EPIC-India, said, “Farmers tailor their planting decisions based on what they think the weather— and in many parts of the world, the monsoon—will be like, but climate change is making the monsoon and other weather patterns increasingly difficult to predict. Our study, from an Indian state (Telangana) where agricultural productivity per worker is generally low, found that new forecasts are able to deliver accurate monsoon predictions even in a changing climate. Farmers listen to these forecasts and are able to change their planting decisions accordingly, making them an important climate adaptation tool for the agricultural sector.”

The researchers studied 250 villages in Telangana, where more than half the labour force are farmers. To test the impact of forecast information on farming, the researchers randomly assigned the 250 villages to three groups: a group that receives forecast information at least one month in advance of the monsoon season, a comparison group that does not receive the forecast, and a group that receives insurance (used as a benchmark). They tracked how the forecast information impacts the farmers’ beliefs about the monsoon onset pre-harvest, their up-front investment decisions, their well-being at the end of the growing season, and how their behaviour compares to those who received the insurance.

Some of the main findings of the study are: farmers disagree greatly on when the monsoon will start; they are persuaded by forecasts and find them valuable; farmers change their farming behaviour according to forecasts; changes in agricultural investments lead to changes and outcomes and well-being; and that investment encourages farmers to invest more but not necessarily make smart choices.

Accurate forecasting enabled optimistic farmers (optimistic in terms of the dates of monsoon arrival) reduce cultivated land by 22 per cent, expenditures by 10 per cent and fertiliser by 30 per cent. While pessimistic farmers increased the same by 15 per cent, 33 per cent and cash crops by 16 per cent. The first group diversified its investment and saved about $560 per farmer. The second group had a 22 per cent increase in production but not necessarily more profits.

Last year’s year’s COP28 presidency identified improved weather forecasts as one of seven “shovel-ready” priority tools to help address the impact of climate change on food security and agriculture.

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