17.06.2013 - UNESCO Office in Santiago

New Chilean agriculture-climate observatory to boost early warning for drought events

Photo: © Francesco Fiondella

The system is to be launched for free public access on 8 July, available for PCs, tablets, and smartphones. Furthermore, the National Climate Risk Management and Agricultural Emergency Unit (UNEA) will issue period agriculture-climate updates to bolster agriculture and livestock sector decision making.

Reducing vulnerability to droughts and other agriculture-climate events with relevant, rapid response information for early warning purposes is the key goal of the Agriculture-Climate Observatory Centre to be implemented by Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture, which will be launched in the midst of celebrations to mark World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, on 17 June.

The observation group, with the support of the MWAR-LAC project (financed by UNESCO), the Flemish Government, and TCPFacility (financed by the FAO), will provide advisory services for the National Climate Risk Management and Agricultural Emergency Unit (UNEA) run by the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile in the task of updating its agriculture-climate risk management system by adopting a monitoring and early warning system to give advance notice of coming hazards.

The system will allow decision makers, farmers, and scientists to access reliable and up-to-the-minute information on meteorological, hydrological, and agricultural conditions, and will provide UNEA with tools to develop forecasts for coming seasons. In the words of national UNEA chief Antonio Yaksic Soulé, “The first part of this project relates to creating drought indices that can describe the magnitude of the situation in the country across time and space, as well as indicators of other risks affecting agriculture - information in high demand among farmers. Our role is to give it to them in the most comprehensible format”.


How does it work?

Koen Verbist, a Hydrological System and Global Change programme specialist based at UNESCO Santiago, explains: “the observatory is based on a Data Library architecture designed by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI). This is a unique system, in that it can integrate different sources, both domestic and international, with a number of formats. Data import work requires a highly flexible and complex system in order to allow information to be visualized a correct manner and to permit the calculation of additional indicators, as well as to allow the data to be exported in a suitable, accessible, and understandable form. That is why the system features a map room to visualize information for the agriculture-climate observation centre”.

The observatory houses information on precipitation surpluses and deficits, river levels, and vegetation condition. This information is processed to develop models for meteorological, hydrological, and agricultural systems

The significance of this new system stems from its replacing an antiquated situation whereby hydrological and climate-related information in Chile was spread out across a number of different institutions, with no overarching vision of current drought conditions and no up to date, automated information system. That made the task of identifying the areas most severely affected by drought nigh on impossible, and entailed an arduous manual data collection and processing back end. It was hitherto impossible to create compound indices, taking into account a number of different drought indicators at the same time — information that can now help avoid false alarms for drought events arising as a result of external causes such as crop diseases, wildfires, etc. The fact that such combined indices are currently used by the European Drought Observatory (EDO) is a sign of the added value that they can now offer.

The system is to be launched for free public access on 8 July, with interfaces for PCs, tablets, and smartphones. The National Climate Risk Management and Agricultural Emergency Unit (UNEA) will also issue period agriculture-climate updates to bolster agriculture and livestock sector decision making.

The project has been made possible with the collaboration of the Chilean Meteorological Office (DMC), the Directorate-General for Water (DGA) managed by the country’s Ministry for Public Works, and Chile’s Institute for Agriculture and Livestock Research (INIA). It is financed by the FAO, UNESCO and the Flemish Government, and supported by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University (New York, USA) and the Centro del Agua para Zonas Áridas de América Latina y el Caribe (CAZALAC), based at La Serena, Chile.

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