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Integrating traditional bio-indicators of the body calendar with GIS techniques offers farmers a CC-adaptive weather forecasting aid



Climate change (CC) is increasing the variability of seasonal weather patterns in the Pamir Mountains, thereby undermining the security of rural livelihoods by creating greater uncertainty and risk for the region’s farmers and pastoralists (Kassam et al. 2011). Traditional bio-indicators – phenophases known to correlate with aspects of recurring weather patterns, such as their timing of onset, frequency, intensity, duration, etc. – have been used effectively elsewhere to develop CC-adaptive weather forecasting tools (Alverez & Vilca 2008; Hambly & Anguna 1996). However, experience suggests this approach is best when used in combination with other methods (Ziervogel & Opere 2010). Given the priority areas for CC adaptation outlined by the government of Tajikistan – including “improvement in weather, climate and hydrological service delivery” as well as ensuring that “climate resilience becomes an integral part of land management and agricultural production” (PPCR 2010) – this proposal recommends employing statistical methods to test the strength of correlation between weather patterns monitored by remote sensing and observed phenological patterns, allowing validation and recalibration of the bio-indicators.

Foundational to this initiative is access to high quality meteorological and phenological data. In the case of the former, this can be sourced from services provided by the NOAA, including the Hydro-Estimator and MSPPS, which provide data on precipitation, surface temperature and other variables at high spatial and temporal resolutions. A Community Based Organization (CBO) would serve as the fulcrum for a participatory program of phenological monitoring and documentation. The CBO would assist in the initial inventory of bio-indicators employed historically as well as coordinating the mobilization and training of volunteers to assist in the collection of daily phenological observations.

The centerpiece of the initiative would be an annually-published Body Calendar Almanac taking the form of a wall calendar, with references to the most useful bio-indicators to watch for, the meteorological significance of each, and notes on how to adjust for the effects of geographical factors like altitude, exposure, etc. With graphical representations of both the Gregorian and Body Calendars, the Almanac would serve as a tool to promote and facilitate fluency in both systems, with the hope of encouraging the calendric pluralism which was the norm throughout the Pamir Mountains until relatively recently (Kassam et al. 2011) and which continues to persist in many regions of the world today (Oxby 2014). By including space for users to write their own observations, the Almanac would serve to facilitate future data collection as well, while publication in various local languages and with different local variations in the structure of the Body Calendar would act to accommodate the region’s rich cultural diversity, thereby helping to ensure that the Body Calendar retains its vibrancy, dynamism and diversity even in its incarnation as a physical artifact.

Crucially, the initiative is envisioned as more than a discrete project implemented by external actors. Instead, it is intended as the cultivation of an ongoing, community-managed effort at CC monitoring, prediction and adaptation. Central to this approach is a focus on stakeholder engagement and the building of institutional partnerships. This entails fostering strong working relationships between members of Pamir Mountain agropastoralist communities and extension personnel, academic researchers, the PPCR and others. This approach also requires recognizing that much of the insight required for this effort may fall outside of formal knowledge systems of hisbodons, academic specialists and other experts, and may instead lie within cultural mediums as varied as songs, folklore and ritual, necessitating conscientious engagement with all members of the community, including women, youth, elders and others.

Category of the action


Who will take these actions?

Maintaining the effectiveness of a Body Calendar Almanac despite the continuing effects of CC will require the initiation of an ongoing process and the establishment of an organization capable of managing it. In light of this, the Global AgroEcology Alliance would serve as Lead Facilitator for this program, responsible for establishing relationships and building skill-sets required for the communities themselves to keep the Body Calendar updated. Alliance members’ previous experience working with communities in Madagascar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, coupled with one member’s strong command of the Russian language, makes this organization particularly qualified for this role.

Briefly, the proposal can be outlined as follows:

1. Establish a Community Based Organization (CBO):

  • Network with community members, women especially, ensuring that all local stakeholder groups are represented, along with members of academia, government and civil society


2. Collect baseline data for the program’s initiation:

  • Draw on the knowledge and experience of the CBO to establish a “sampling frame” which reflects the region’s ecological and cultural diversity. Take GPS waypoints of the study sites.
  • Collect details about the bio-indicators used historically through interviews, PRA, and other research methods outlined in the summary.
  • Recruit and train volunteers from within the community to record phenological observations


3. Build partnerships between the CBO and technical support personnel:

  • Link the CBO with a national partner to assist with the collation of the meteorological, geographic and phenological data, as well as testing for correlations and the running other statistical analyses.
  • Put the CBO in contact with a designer/printer to assist with the publication of the Almanac



What are other key benefits?

It is difficult to quantify in advance the gains which this initiative will provide in terms of crop yields, resilience and risk mitigation, or the impact on overall livelihood security. However, there is significant potential in all of these areas to the extent that a more accurate seasonal forecasting tool, which is at the same time low-cost, user-friendly and culturally-sensitive, will aid farmers in selecting appropriate crops, guide the timing of cultivation activities, and even providing advance warning of long-term trends requiring more transformational changes to agricultural systems. Evidence to this effect can be found in a similar initiative combining remote sensing, ground-based measurements and indigenous knowledge to promote CC-adaptive reindeer husbandry in the Russian arctic (Maynard et al 2013). The proposed methods are also cost-effective, scientifically rigorous, fully participatory and highly scalable.


What are the proposal’s costs?

In addition to its financial cost, it should also be acknowledged that while this approach offers numerous advantages over more top-down alternatives, it also possesses significant challenges and considerable risk, not least of which is  the time and resource investment required to establish, build and maintain the working relationships among  stakeholders upon which all other actions depend. However, previous efforts have led to the enumeration of best practices from which the current effort can draw. For more on the challenges and opportunities in multi-stakeholder platforms, plus methods for managing both, see (Cullen et al. 2013; Pamela & Swaans 2013; Rooyan et al. 2013). Needless to say, this effort will also need to draw heavily on the expertise of partners with first-hand knowledge of, and experience in, the Pamir Mountain Region and is in many ways contingent upon the cooperation and assistance of a wide variety of actors, both from within the community and without.

The table below summarizes anticipated monetary expenses for the first 24 months of work in a pilot area consisting of five communities. The figures remain as rough estimates, subject to change as additional information becomes available. It should also be noted that the Research Team consists not only of participating members from the Global AgroEcology Alliance, but also partners including Dr. Kassam and his team as well as other collaborators from among local academic, governmental and non-governmental organizations.


Time line

Short Term:

In the first year of the program, priority would be given to networking, establishment of the CBO and the Advisory Board and the identification of technical support personnel. Bio-indicators which were used historically would be inventoried over the course of the growing season and, by the end of the first year, volunteers would be recruited and trained to begin recording phenological observations the following spring.

During the second year, phenological and weather data would be collected throughout the growing season and then, during the winter chilla, the inaugural edition of the Almanac would be prepared. This would conclude the period of greatest direct involvement by the Global AgroEcology Alliance.

The following year, GAEA would be present during periods of peak data collection and would stay through the winter to oversee data analysis and the preparation of the second Almanac. An effort would be made to establish the independence of the CBO, with GAEA providing guidance and additional training only if requested.   

Thereafter, management would fall entirely to the CBO, with GAEA serving only as another member of the advisory Board.

Medium/Long Term:

Needless to say, the value of the phenological observations, weather remote sensing data and the empirical tests of their correlation will grow significantly over time - perhaps only reaching their maximum value after numerous years.

Over the long term - after the CBO has the experience of self-sustained project development in the pilot sites - this initiative could expand geographically to communities in other regions. Having achieved a high level of confidence from those engaged in the project and having already created the partnerships required for its development, it will be easier to extend this initiative to other regions where it could be a benefit but which are too remote to serve as a pilot area and where other information, tools and services are more limited. 

Related proposals

Our proposal is indebted to Sarah Opitz-Stapleton and her submission, entitled “Climate co-knowledge generation between communities, ag services and Tajik Pilot Programme on Climate Resilience”. From her efforts, we have drawn both inspiration and advice on several occasions, particularly with regards to tools and methods for participatory research, as well as information on governmental and non-governmental organizations active in this field within Tajikistan and around the world.

We also wish to express our appreciation to Morgan Ruelle and the rest of the CoLab moderators for their guidance and encouragement, as well as all the other members of the CoLab community who offered their advice and feedback.


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