The increasing frequency of extreme events in West Africa, such as droughts and floods, has made populations that base their subsistence mostly on rainfed agriculture even more vulnerable to climate threats. Climate Services (CS) are largely acknowledged as effective tools for tackling climate risks in agriculture, particularly in semi-arid developing countries but evidence of their effectiveness is still jeopardized. In Niger, a climate service (CS) has been set up in the regions of Dosso and Tillabéri by the National Meteorological Service (NMS) to provide salient information for smallholder farmers. The CS was built on a robust collaboration among NMS, local extension services and authorities and farmers in 8 municipalities. The case study shows that a large share of farmers receives throughout the cropping season climatic information and advice via roving seminars and various media, including instant messaging services and radio broadcasts. Nevertheless, the results indicate that access to CS alone doesn’t imply relevant positive impacts on crop yields while the training of farmers in the use of the information results be a significant factor. Indeed, in 2020, the yields of trained farmers are significantly higher by around 17% compared to those of non-trained ones. Training and iterative interaction between farmers and NMS could also have indirect effects on information uptake, contributing to building reciprocal trust and therefore stronger action by trained farmers. The study confirms the importance of the social learning process in CS co-development. Since the study is limited by the small sample and the dataset covering only one cropping season, further research is needed to deepen cost-benefit analysis and disentangle the relative contribution of the CS components to yield increase. Indeed, evidence of the positive impact of CS could represent leverage for local governments and international funders to support CS co-development and related capacity-building activities.
Climate variability and a strong increase in extreme hydrometeorological events are affecting agriculture production and exacerbating food insecurity in West Africa. In Niger, the vulnerability of agricultural production systems is coupled with ecosystem fragility and soil degradation. In this area, the rural population is the most vulnerable to climate threats because they have a reduced capability to implement effective risk reduction and climate change adaptation strategies and the national government has limited resources to invest in climate policies. The CS implemented for the regions of Dosso and Tillabéri in Niger demonstrates that it is possible to set up an effective network for disseminating agrometeorological information for smallholder farmers at the municipal level with the aim of reducing the impact of climate threats on agriculture production. The information produced by the National Meteorological Service (NMS) is spread through extension services and rural radios to reach farmers. At the same time, the agrometeorological field data are collected by local farmers and sent to the national service, ensuring the continuous monitoring of the cropping season. Subsequently, the agrometeorological information is coupled with setting up roving seminars in each municipality to spread tailored advice for farmers concerning seasonal climate forecasts and to build capacities in the use of agrometeorological advice during the season. During these seminars, rain gauges are also distributed to farmers and their use is explained. In this way, farmers become able to autonomously take some tactical decisions, such as better timing the sowing of crops or performing farming activities, basing these choices on direct observations. The present case study demonstrates that the mere receipt of the climate information is not clearly related to an increase in yields; contrariwise, farmers who received training on how to properly use the information, have significantly higher yields. Repeated capacity building and information distribution over the years represent an element of trust building for end users who are more prone to use these CS in their agricultural choices, integrating their traditional knowledge. The next challenge is to guarantee the sustainability of these networks over time, because, even if advances in technology could reduce the costs of the production and distribution of climate services, the training activities and maintaining the rural observation network are challenging. A possible way to make it sustainable is to reinforce institutional collaboration. Moreover, the use of a participatory approach in co-designing the CS could be a key element in pursuing the active involvement of the local population and administrations and could increase their motivation in the data exchange process. Based on obtained results, the authors recommend pursuing the development of tailored CS for smallholder farmers in similar rural contexts, since these services constitute a real contribution to climate change adaptation at the local level in rural areas and future experiences could ensure the fine-tuning of the climate information products, reducing delivery costs and increasing benefits for stakeholders. Finally, it is also recommended to further assess the cost/benefit ratio of CS in order to leverage funds and ensure scaling up and sustainability.