Increasingly however, weather patterns are becoming unpredictable and agricultural land is subject to more numerous extreme climate events that contribute to desertification, drought, floods, landslides, storm surges, soil erosion, and saline water intrusion. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, natural disasters are occurring nearly five times as often compared to 40 years ago.1
Vulnerability assessments and early warning systems are often used in an attempt to mitigate risks by reducing exposure and vulnerability for agricultural sectors. Early warning systems typically combine monitoring, forecasting, and risk assessments. The information derived from such systems is then used to develop preparedness plans so that timely action can be taken to avert or reduce the impact of a variety of potential hazards. Finally, information must be effectively communicated to stakeholders. This can be facilitated in a number of ways, including through the use of radio and mobile phones in rural areas.
Early warning systems can be implemented at the local through global levels for a variety of threats such as biological hazards (bacteria, insects, parasites, viruses), geological hazards (tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides), and meteorological hazards (floods, droughts, temperature extremes).
The CTCN has received an increased number of requests over the past year related to early warning systems and vulnerability assessments. Sudan submitted its first-ever request to the CTCN, seeking to develop a methodology and build the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to utilise remote sensing technologies to monitor climate change and its potential impacts on the agricultural sector. Eswatini’s National Disaster Management Agency is also working with the CTCN to develop the agency’s capacity to utilise unmanned aerial vehicles and remote sensing technologies to provide data for agricultural vulnerability assessments and response planning.
Some of the requests to the CTCN are broader in scale, extending beyond agriculture to include vulnerability assessments for coastal zones, forestry, and water sectors. In Uganda for example, the CTCN is working to develop a national vulnerability index for monitoring resilience in a number of priority sectors specified in the country’s NDC. Iran is collaborating with the CTCN to identify tools to both monitor and address increasing sand and dust storms and their impact on agricultural and water resources.
Progress in quality, processing and availability of early warning data has markedly improved over the last few years with technological advances in real-time data collection, modelling, and simulation capabilities. The European Union’s Copernicus Programme, with its continuous, open access global earth observation information services, is an example of remarkable recent developments in combining innovative technologies with increased access to data for environmental monitoring. The system utilises global data from satellites together with sensors that are ground-based on the seas or in the air to monitor the planet and its various ecosystems.
Vulnerability assessments and early warning systems can indeed serve as critical tools for policy makers as they aim to ensure food security. They offer an opportunity to analyse and address other existing vulnerabilities in the agricultural value chain, such as gender considerations and adequate access to information and services for farming communities, particularly in traditional rain-fed farmlands that are especially vulnerable to droughts and flooding.