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 elborate 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.


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