Twice a week these farmers receive text messages or can read on wall displays, weather variance information that is specific to their crop and geographical location - courtesy 51 automated weather stations scattered across villages of the state's Akole and Sangamner blocks in Ahmednagar district.
This advisory system is part of the agro-met component of Watershed Organisation Trust's (WOTR) Climate Change Adaptation project implemented with the help of India Meteorological Department (IMD) that started the first agro-advisories via radio in 1945.
Joyashree Roy, initiator and co-ordinator, Global Change Programme of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, emphasised that climate change is "happening" and climate-dependent rural communities feel the impact of extreme climate changes "first and most intensely".
"Once it is raining and the next time it is sunny... so they can tell things are varying. These are called extreme climate events. We have found there is a yield loss of 40 to 75 percent due to which they can't recover their money and repay bank loans...this creates a situation of perennial indebtedness," Roy told IANS.
For example, in Feb 2012, for the first time, villages in the Akole cluster saw frost overnight shrivelling their standing crops of pearl millet, maize and groundout, among others.
Roy, one of the two coordinating lead authors of the Industry chapter of the Nobel Prize-winning Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said: "Such advisories combining satellite info and ground readings are extremely important to relay what is going to happen...they can plan their harvest...plan their sowing activities and the like."
And with phenomena such as rainfall varying even within a kilometre, accurate and locale-specific predictions are of utmost importance, said Roy.
Moreover, the information obtained manually through distantly spaced weather stations is not specific to each farmer's crop locality.
And with the gradual loss of the traditional system of forecasting based on observing surrounding flora and fauna, advanced agro-met advisories need to reach out to farmers.
"We have installed 51 of these automated units in various villages, 29 of which we have linked telemetrically to our servers in our head office in Pune," said Crispino Lobo, co-founder and managing trustee, WOTR. Telemetry enables automatic measurement and data transmission.
The first station came up five years ago and now around 3,000 farmers are reaping the benefits.
"Every hour these telemetrically linked devices send us meteorological and weather data to our servers. We then process the data with the help of a software which we have designed," Lobo elaborated.
The data is then sent to the IMD servers that further processes the information and generates and forwards to WOTR three-day weather forecasts specific to those villages linked through the automated weather units.
"The next step is to prepare agro-advisories specific to crops and locations. These are forwarded through SMS (most popular) or displayed on wallpapers. The popular public address system is also put to use for this," Lobo said.
Those that are not synced telemetrically are used to generate databases and for analysis of trends and patterns.
At the ground level the 'Vasundhara Sevaks' (earth caretakers) group of village youths are trained to read the met data and display daily weather reports.
However, several concerns need to be addressed to ensure the smooth functioning of the units.
"The devices are affordable but maintenance and running are the key factors...the stations are affected by bee-hives, hornets and nests. The battery power also needs to be considered," explained Lobo.
Upscaling requires the confidence of farmers based on precision of results.
"The results need to be validated for more than six seasons to gain their confidence and the technology must be demonstrable," Lobo said.
The next step, he said, would be to increase specificity to more crops and tap in farm survey reports to create a "farmer-specific reliable database".
"We don't have farm survey reports yet, but that is not too difficult. It could provide an inventory database of every farmer with land holdings."
(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at email@example.com)
--IANS (Posted on 25-11-2013)