It is not easy to convince a farmer on monsoon predictions even while they may be open to climate change adaptation technology. But, when farmers in India are given highly accurate monsoon forecasts not typically available to them, they make better investment decisions.

Monsoon’s onset timing is critical for agriculture, but a new study from Telangana has found that farmers may not always have access to accurate onset information and thus disagree widely about when the monsoon will start, highlighting the need for forecasts.

The study conducted by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago reveals that when farmers in India are given highly accurate monsoon forecasts not typically available to them, they make better investment decisions, as they change their farming behaviours according to the forecasts.

Changes in agricultural investments lead to changes in agrarian outcomes and well-being, the study said adding that “insurance encourages optimistic farmers to invest more but does not guide smarter choices.” 

Also read: The rippling effects of erratic monsoon

The study conducted in Telangana presents the first experimental evidence on the impact of an accurate long-range monsoon forecast—a new climate adaptation technology—on farmers’ behaviour and well-being.

The study titled Long-Range Forecasts as Climate Adaptation: Experimental Evidence from Developing- Country Agriculture by Fiona Burlig, Amir Jina, Erin M Kelley, Gregory Lane, and Harshil Sahai is on “can access to better forecasts help farmers better adapt to climate change?”

Specifically, the researchers studied 250 villages in Telangana, where more than half the labour forces are farmers. It was conducted to test the impact of forecast information on farming.

The study suggests that long-range forecasts enable farmers to make the best possible decisions about whether to plant at all, how much to plant, what to plant, and how to make adjustments across crops by providing critical information about the coming growing season.

As such, providing farmers with better access to forecasts can help them adapt to the less predictable conditions that come with climate change. However, forecasts with proven accuracy are rare and often inaccessible and improving forecasts and making them available to farmers could increase the wellbeing of farmers and boost the economies of farming communities around the world.

“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,” says study co-author Fiona Burlig, an assistant professor at the Harris School of Public Policy and deputy faculty director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s India office.

Also read: CMFRI study shows positive impact of monsoon trawl ban on Karikadi prawn resources

An earlier monsoon typically means a longer growing season, suited to cash crops like cotton. Later monsoons are generally worse, forcing farmers to grow lower-value subsistence crops like paddy. To boost the credibility of the forecasts in the eyes of the farmers, the researchers partnered with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad.

Overly optimistic farmers, for whom the forecast brought “bad news” of a shorter-than-expected growing season, took steps to cut down on their investments and expenditures. While overly pessimistic farmers, for whom the forecast brought “good news” that the growing season would be longer than expected, increased investments and expenditures, the study revealed.