Opportunities and challenges for seasonal climate forecasts to more effectively assist smallholder farming decisions

  • Bright Chisadza Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3343-7455
  • Abbyssinia Mushunje Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa
  • Kenneth Nhundu Economic Analysis Unit, Agricultural Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Ethel E. Phiri Department of Agronomy, Faculty of AgriSciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Keywords: climate change and variability, farming decisions, indigenous knowledge, interdisciplinary, usability of climate forecast


The ability of smallholder farmers to utilise seasonal climate forecast (SCF) information in farm planning to reflect anticipated climate is a precursor to improved farm management. However, the integration of SCF by smallholder farmers into farm planning has been poor, partly because of the lack of forecast skill, lack of communication and inability to see the relevance of the SCFs for specific farming decisions. The relevance of seasonal climate forecasting in farming decisions can be enhanced through improved understanding of SCF from the smallholder farmers’ perspective. Studies that have been done of how smallholder farmers understand SCF and how the available SCFs influence smallholder farmers’ decisions are limited. Therefore, the objective of this paper was to review how smallholder farmers make decisions on farming practices based on SCFs and the challenges and opportunities thereof. The review shows that the majority of smallholder farmers in Africa make use of either scientific or indigenous knowledge climate forecasts and, in some cases, a combination of both. There are mixed results in the area of evaluating benefits of SCFs in decision-making and farm production. In some cases, the outcomes are positive, whereas in others they are difficult to quantify. Thus, the integration of SCFs into smallholder farmers’ decision-making is still a challenge. We recommend that significant work must be done to improve climate forecasts in terms of format, and spatial and temporal context in order for them to be more useful in influencing decision-making by smallholder farmers.


  • At the farm level, making the right decisions at the right time is rendered even more difficult in light of the increasing frequency of extreme weather patterns.
  • The threat of climate change makes accurate seasonal climate forecasting essential for African smallholder farmers.
  • Technological, social and interdisciplinary issues, communication and scale are some key challenges which impact the utility and uptake of SCFs in rural smallholder farms.
  • The integration of both scientific and indigenous knowledge forecasts is an opportunity for further exploration.
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