An interdisciplinary team worked with local fishers in southern India and institutions to co-produce knowledge about and responses to weather hazards.
The lives, livelihoods, and output of food producers across the world can be heavily impacted by adverse changes in weather conditions. Fishers on the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India are significantly exposed to hazards from weather at sea.
As well as constant risks from bad weather and sea conditions, they face particular hazards over the monsoon period from June to September, when winds strengthen, storms intensify, and waves can reach 20ft. In one major weather event, Cyclone Ockhi in 2017,over 365 fishers from south India were killed.
However, access to reliable forecasting is limited, and there is no dedicated offshore communication system – weather forecasts and hazards are shared by radio and mobile phone, which may not be sufficient to manage hazards at sea. In Cyclone Ockhi, weather information and early warnings were unclear or did not reach some fishers.
Additionally, COVID19 restrictions in 2020 restricted both fishing and markets, prompting more activity during the riskier monsoon season, post-lockdown.
A thatched shack at Karumkulam village that served temporarily as the recording studio of Radio Monsoon, an online and phone-in marine weather news service. (c) Max Martin
A team from the University of Sussex, including geographer Dr Max Martin, collaborated with weather forecasters and institutions in India to improve forecasting approaches in ways that could benefit artisanal fishers.
Collaborating with a range of institutions in India, including research partners Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), the team visited seven fishing villages in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They were aiming to understand weather-related hazards in the area and how local fishers used weather forecasts and responded to these hazards.
Data was collected by tracking the trips of 40 fishing boats from the villages for 122 days in the monsoon of 2019, then compared with forecasts and wind and wave measurements, and 30 years of storm data for the Arabian Sea. This was then set in context by a series of focus groups and interviews with local fishers, discussing forecast needs and their responses to weather hazards.
Working with fishers, forecasts and weather alerts were then designed and distributed via mobile phones, radio, and loudspeakers. These activities were supplemented with workshops on risk, where fishers identified risks in local coasts and harbours and suggested a set of measures such as localised forecasts, information on storm tracks, and better signal systems at harbours.
The team supported the establishment of Radio Monsoon, a maritime news service which offered weather news online and by phone-in request.
A fisherman keeps his mobile phone in a waterproof plastic pouch. Fishers routinely carry basic handsets that can help them communicate upto ten miles from the shore. Image: Max Martin
Understanding the forecasting needs and practices of artisanal fishers has helped provide better targeted weather forecasting to help them manage hazards at sea.
The project found insights into how fishers in the region used weather forecasts, and what they needed to improve their safety and preparedness. They found that fishers do use weather forecasts, which were mostly accurate for the period.
Fishers also relied on their own knowledge of local conditions as weather warnings were sometimes perceived as too conservative – fishing activity was driven by the availability of fish to catch. This varied – in Anjengo village, fishers went out on 40% of days with advisories against going to sea, but in Poonthura village, this was over 70%, as the Sussex team’s 2018 study showed. However, fishers preferred to fish closer to the shore – about 10km out – during the monsoon season.
Looking ahead, this work helps address Sustainable Development Goals around reducing hunger and making communities sustainable by improving the security of fishing as a food source.
The team is establishing a template for developing and communicating best practice in co-producing weather knowledge with artisanal fishers, which will enable other communities to benefit from the project work and findings.
This research has led to several additional funded projects which will extend activities around the co-production of weather forecasting, as well as testing local forecasts and examining the effect of weather events on coastal erosion.
As boats land in the morning, women get ready to buy fish at the harbour of Vizhinjam to sell locally and in the city market. Image: Max Martin
Tracking wind and waves with fishers and forecasters - Sussex Sustainability Research Programme
The team’s poster, hosted by the Kerala state government
Conference paper: Disseminating marine weather forecasts and gathering feedback from artisanal fishers in south India
A policy briefing produced by the team on the research
Tools for safe and sustainable artisanal fishing: Responding to climate change and food insecurity - Sussex Sustainability Research Programme
Forecasting with Fishers – School of Global Studies, University of Sussex
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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (date) Improving safety and sustainability in food production by co-producing weather forecasts. Available at www.rgs.org/impact/fishingforecasts. Last accessed on: <date>
A small fishing boat with outboard motors land early in the morning off the coast of Pallithura village. (c) Max Martin
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