In 2015 a major drought, followed by a significant frost, in the Eastern Highlands of Papua Guinea (PNG) led to food stress for much of the population. Dr Steve Crimp’s research is designed to help communities respond directly to this type of crisis, by giving local farmers the tools to prepare for climate variability and climate change.
“My research looks at how to improve the flow of climate information into rural communities in forms that those communities can respond to,” said Dr Crimp, a Research Fellow at the ANU Climate Change Institute.
“Climate science can generate a lot of information but its usefulness depends on how it can be understood by local communities.”
For example, general information is provided by seasonal forecasts in the form of probabilistic statements of rainfall or temperature thresholds, but this is hard for many local farmers to understand.
“If we can understand their decision making process, we can modify the seasonal climate information in ways that inform and support food production decisions made by farmers” said Dr Crimp. “We’re providing a translational role.”
For example, if a drought is highly likely, the government could communicate guidelines about farming practice management. This might include conserving more drought tolerant crops like cassava or yams instead of more water sensitive crops, or building temporary water storages for hand watering.
The knowledge for the project comes from integrating traditional indigenous ecological knowledge with climate science. In 2018, Dr Crimp and his team have surveyed over 1000 households in the Eastern Highland and Morobe Provinces, and they’re starting to get a clear picture of the knowledge landscape.
“The research has been really positively received,” he said. “Communities are frustrated by the lack of information that allows them to proactively respond to changing climatic conditions. There is strong demand for this sort of practically applicable information.”
Government agencies are also interested in improving the capacity of their staff to generate forecast information and contextualize this for communities.
“This research is likely to have significant economic benefits for PNG. When communities use information effectively, we can reduce food production losses and increase production gains in a way that improves the overall livelihood of rural PNG communities.”
The research has been funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.