Forecasting with fishers: co-producing knowledge for early warning of extreme weather events on the coast of South India

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Global Studies


The proposed multi-disciplinary project aims to making South Indian artisanal fishers' livelihoods more secure and sustainable by improving safety at sea. Bringing together these small-scale fishers with weather forecasters and government agencies, it will devise, test and promote effective means for the co-production and communication of accurate weather forecasts, thus increasing resilience of the fishers amidst a trend of extreme and hazardous weather conditions in a changing climate. Moreover, the project will devise an "action template" of practical methods and a road-map for co-producing and communicating accessible and effective weather forecasts to artisanal fishers elsewhere in India and beyond. It will also contribute to academic debates concerning: the understanding and response to environmental risks; the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in disseminating information and warnings to diverse and vulnerable populations; and the knowledge, practices and livelihoods of fishing communities in Asia.

The main objective of the proposed project is to close the gap between what marine weather forecasters produce and disseminate, and what artisanal fishers recognize as relevant and actionable inputs for decision-making. Access to trusted and actionable forecasts helps fishers make informed decisions to go to sea or not under hazardous weather conditions, thus reducing risk of potentially life-threatening accidents at sea, diminishing the loss of gear and boats, and, more generally, building resilience against hazardous weather conditions. Such weather-resilient pathways will contribute to promoting more secure and sustainable livelihoods for artisanal fishers in India and elsewhere in the Global South. This project will be part of a larger effort called the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) to provide science relevant for implementing the SDGs in seventeen low and medium income countries.

Drawing on the expertise of a multi-disciplinary research team--comprising anthropologists, geographers, atmospheric and marine scientists, and ICT and media experts - the proposed project combines complementary methodological approaches. It utilizes ethnographic methods to study the wider social, economic and cultural practices underpinning artisanal fishing, as well as to gauge fishers' forecast usage and uptake. It uses satellite and in-situ weather observations to gain insights into changing hazard patterns and forecast challenges, as well as to acquire the necessary data to co-produce area-specific weather forecasts with fishers, forecasters and other stakeholders. It will employ participatory approaches and technologies developed in the fields of human-computer interaction and ICT4D to co-produce and test effective, culturally appropriate communication platforms to disseminate weather forecast and provide feedback on the same. To account for variations in fishing techniques and technologies, and in the socio-economic organization of fishing, as well as different forms of social organization and cultural orientations the field-research will take place in three different fishing communities. These will be located, respectively, in Kanyakumari, Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts in South India, a stretch of coast with one of the densest concentrations of artisanal fishers in Asia, using diverse craft, gear and fishing methods in a geographically diverse setting.

Planned Impact

This project aims at making artisanal fishers' livelihoods in LMICs more secure and sustainable by providing accurate, accessible and actionable marine weather forecasts, and promoting their uptake. It is based on intensive user engagement, paired with capacity-building and pathways co-created with local communities to align forces in making fishers' livelihoods more secure and sustainable. The main impact objective is to deliver practical methods and a road-map for replicating co-production of locally relevant marine weather forecasts in India and beyond via production of an "action template", consisting of a toolkit adaptable to different geographical, technical and cultural contexts. The project builds on a 12 months pilot research supported by the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme which allowed to determine the stakeholders' and users' urgent need for reliable and actionable marine weather forecasts on the south-west coast of India, and brought together users and stakeholders-artisanal fishers, fishers organisations, weather forecasters, government agencies-to shape the intellectual and practical direction of the proposed project.

The project's impact strategy-for which £58,000 have been allocated in the budget-entails, firstly, securing the long term co-production of weather bulletins tailored to the social, cultural and economic needs of fishers, but also responsive to the priorities of weather forecasters and government agencies. Secondly, it requires the establishment of effective and easily accessible offshore/onshore communication tools in collaboration with fishers, government agencies and forecasters. Thirdly, it engages with civil society organizations, as well as with fishers' families to foster the establishment of local "boundary organizations" devoted to promoting decision-making behaviours informed by co-produced weather forecast, and thus conducive to safe fishing. Taken together, this impact strategy will provide the means to elaborate and produce an "action template" for co-producing and communicating accessible and effective weather forecasting to artisanal fishers in low and medium income countries.

The first beneficiaries of the proposed project are artisanal fishers who will gain access to accurate and actionable forecasts, thus reducing risk of accidents at sea. By building resilience against hazardous weather conditions, this will contribute to promoting more secure and sustainable livelihoods. The second beneficiaries are local fishers organizations such as the South Indian Federation of Fishermen's Societies (SIFFS) and the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) who will gain access to new means to advancing their long-term goal of promoting the safety and welfare of Indian artisanal fishers. Thirdly, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), and the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) will benefit by drawing on this project's insights and practices to reach more effectively coastal communities with weather forecasts and warnings based user feedback and co-production. The devasting effects of the 2017 Cyclone Ockhi and of the 2018 monsoon floods on south-west India have made this an urgent priority for these agencies, and highlighted substantial shortcomings. To enhance resilience of fishers (and farmers) in other low and medium income countries, we will transfer the practical and intellectual results of the project worldwide via engagement with international organizations which are concerned with the safety and welfare of artisanal fishers with whom project members have established connections.


10 25 50
Description The research is still ongoing. Having completed data collection, we are now in the analysis and impact phase. The project was formally suspended for 6 months due to covid-19 lockdown in the research area, and resumed on 1st October 2020. It was granted a no-cost extension until 30 April 2022. The research project set to explore effective strategies to produce and communicate localized and reliable weather information which South Indian traditional/artisanal fishers require to fish safely even under uncertain, variable or prohibitive weather conditions.

Traditional fishers' lives
There are more than 180,000 active traditional fishers in Kerala, of whom 55,118 live in the Thiruvananthapuram district. Coastal households are highly dependent on fishing and daily sale of fish, and the bulk of fishing income goes towards covering daily household expenses, acquiring or servicing fishing gear, repaying debts, providing for human development expenditures like education and health, and sustaining wider family and community. Without regular and successful fishing, income becomes uncertain or reduced, leading to increased indebtedness which then amplifies the precariousness of traditional fishers' livelihood. Available statistics, supported by a house-to-house survey we conducted during the research, suggest that 50% of fishing household remain below poverty line.

Our research has established that as the result of economic pressures and ecological factors, traditional fishers are drawn to fishing further away from the shore even under inclement weather conditions or in disregard of advisories. The monsoon season is the time when the largest fish catches are made and fishing household can make savings to see them through the whole year. However, weather and sea conditions during the monsoon season can be extremely hazardous, and as a result many accidents occur: fishers lose boats, fishing gear, income, and even their lives throughout the season. At the same time, climate change has made weather patterns on the south-west coast of India more unstable and unpredictable the whole year and beyond the monsoon season (see, for instance, increased occurrence of cyclonic events on the south-west coast of India), making fishers' lives and livelihoods more unpredictable and precarious during non-monsoon season. Combined with fluctuations of fish stocks and Covid-19 bans on fishing, the growing uncertainty of weather have reduced the number of fishing days available to traditional fishers, thus contributing to a sharp decline in the overall yearly tonnage of fish landed. The necessity to secure an income and the unpredictability of fishing often forces traditional fishers to prioritise income over safety. While traditional fishing continues to play a crucial role in the economy and daily diet of the state, fishing has become one of the most dangerous occupations in Kerala.

Listening To Traditional Fishers' Voices
Over 12 months, the research team has collected robust empirical evidence on fishing practices in three different fishing villages along the Thiruvananthapuram coast, as well as detailed data on weather patterns at sea. On the basis of the analysis of more than 300 interviews with fishers, focus group discussions and household surveys, the research team has established that fishers' decisions concerning whether to fish or not under hazardous weather/sea conditions are based on a combination of different (traditional and scientific) knowledges, as well as on the availability of fish in the sea, and on economic needs of the households concerned. However, existing weather forecasts provided and delivered by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) cover an area of the ocean too wide to be useful to traditional fishers for the safe planning of their fishing activities which normally take place within an average of 35kms from the coast. Moreover, existing weather forecasts are often imprecise, regularly under/over-forecasting unusual weather events (e.g., wind >45 kmph). These factors combine with all too frequent advisories against fishing to undermine fishers' trust on existing weather forecasts.

Regardless of the shortcomings in existing forecasts and generalised lack of trust on their precision and usefulness, the research team established that traditional fishers are responsive to scientific advice as long as science addresses their needs. Indeed, they demand more science-based interventions which respond to their needs and increase their safety at sea. There is clear evidence in all three research locations that traditional fishers ask for localized, reliable, daily and timely weather forecasts disseminated in a language and through means familiar to them, and they want to be involved in both production and dissemination of forecasts. Such localized, reliable and timely weather forecasts can be used by traditional fishers not simply to decide as to whether to go to sea or not, but also to manage potential risks, and to prepare for fishing under hazardous conditions. Indeed, traditional fishers demand daily weather information before venturing into sea.

Responding to Traditional Fishers' needs
To increase the safety of traditional fishers and to make their livelihood more resilient in the face of increasingly hazardous and unpredictable weather resulting to the effects of climate change, the research team has devised and tested new tools to produce accurate and timely localized coastal weather forecasts.

Scientists at CUSAT Advanced Centre for Atmospheric Radar Research (ACARR) and at Sussex University (UK) have devised a 3-tiers approach to provide traditional fishers with tailor-made weather forecasts. Based on available data from IMD, INCOIS, NCEP (National Center for Environmental Prediction, USA) and NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA), the research team produced 7 days weather outlooks for the entire Arabian sea; 3 days forecasts for the Arabian Sea off Kerala coast; daily high-resolution localized weather forecasts for relevant fishing areas along the Thiruvananthapuram coast based on WRF weather modelling tools. These combined forecasts help the fishers plan the fishing expedition for a single or multiple days. Throughout the 2021 monsoon season, the research team has validated the accuracy of localized WRF-based high resolution forecasts against scientific data of actual weather events, as well as with reference to traditional fishers' actual observations and experiences. The localized WRF-based high resolution coastal weather forecasts were found to be detailed and useful for artisanal fishers, and with a high degree of accuracy. Taken together, this 3-tiers approach to weather forecasting allows traditional fishers to plan ahead, and maximise their fishing in a safe and sustainable environment.

At the same time, the research team devised and tested effective and easily accessible communication tools to make localized forecasts accessible to local fishing communities. In collaboration with ITC experts at IIT Delhi and Sussex University, the team developed a tailor-made mobile-phone App and a website through which detailed localized weather graphics and weather Information were made available in Malayalam language to traditional fishers. Moreover, the research team tested the broadcast of daily weather information in Malayalam through two online radio stations run by local community members. The usefulness and practicality of these communication tools were established through regular discussions with users. Moreover, the research team trained aspirants from the coastal community in the interpretation of weather information and graphics, as well as on communication skills and techniques. Extensive feedback from traditional fishers allowed the research team to modify and improve the working and scope of the communication tools.

Promoting Safety, Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods with Traditional Fishers
During the whole 2021 monsoon season the research team collected regular and detailed feedback from fishers about the accuracy and usefulness of localized weather models and forecasts, and improved the latter on the basis of their comments. The team also
tested different means to communicate localized weather forecasts and to make them accessible and useful to the largest number of users. Fishers' continuous feedback allowed us to refine communication tools, leading, for example, to the introduction of easy to understand weather graphics on mobile App and website, and public electronic displays of forecast and graphics.

Traditional fishers' response to a timely, accurate and localized daily coastal weather forecast has been extremely positive. The monitoring of the use of communication tools confirmed a substantial uptake of weather information produced by the research team, and fishers continuously provide feedback and suggestions on how to improve the production and communication of weather information. Most importantly, the research demonstrates that traditional fishers require continuous access to robust weather science and technological support for their work. This has become even more urgent in the context of transformations of weather patterns due to climate change which limits the usefulness of fishers' traditional knowledge. They demand to be involved in the production, communication and management of localized weather forecasts, as well as on the promotion of safe and sustainable fishing. Indeed, this research demonstrates that fishers' trust in weather forecasts and compliance to weather information and advisories directly depends on fishers' involvement in the co-production of effective localized forecasts and in the communication of the same.
Exploitation Route On the basis of its interdisciplinary research, the research team is now working with the Fisheries Department of the Government of Kerala for establishing a Coastal Weather Information Service in the state, which will provide traditional fishers with accurate, reliable and actionable weather forecasts throughout the year. Such a Coastal Weather Information Service is being developed in collaboration with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), and a formal working agreement with them is being finalised. The Coastal Weather Information Service not only will provide daily impact-based and customized forecasts for fishers using artisanal craft of different types, going different distances from the shore, but will also enhance local relevance for available forecasts, using WRF models tested as part of our research.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment

Description The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has decided to adopt the WRF-based tool devised and tested by our research team. The daily small-grid forecasts (and related graphics) we produce, will be uploaded onto the IMD website, and utilised to enhance and refine costal forecasts for the South Kerala region. At the same time, we are working with Government of Kerala to support the development and delivery of an effective Coastal Weather Information Service for Kerala artisanal fishers. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) have agreed to collaborate over a 12 month period with CUSAT/SUSSEX to enhance, test and validate the WRF-based forecasting tool developed by our research team. This working group-funded by Government of Kerala-will consult with Fisheries Department (GoK) and Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) to develop appropriate infrastructures for the daily communication of coastal forecasts, and to involve coastal communities in the process of production and communication of forecasts. Once tested and validated, the GoK/Fisheries Department will consider launching a fully-functioning Coastal Weather Information Service for the whole Kerala State. CUSAT/Sussex will provide IMD with scientific validation and corroboration of their existing small-grid forecasting tool, as well as the enhanced forecasting product developed through the collaboration indicated above. On the basis of the scientific solidity and appropriateness of these small-grid forecasting tools, the IMD has indicated that they will consider to include them in its array of forecasting tools and deploy them elsewhere in coastal India.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services