Climate Information: Learning Natural Signs Like a Farmer

Yen lemahe wis empuk, tangane megar'' is one of the local wisdoms that is still widely believed by farmers in Ngoro-oro Sub-Village, Giriasih Village, Purwosari District, Gunungkidul in determining the beginning of the planting period, namely if the soil is soft due to rain, then it is time to work. Farmers use knowledge from generation to generation by paying attention to the soil wetness where if the rain soaks the soil to a depth of 1 hoe (30cm), the farmers will start sowing seeds. However, the erratic rainfall makes it difficult for farmers to predict when is the right time to start planting.

Climate change has an impact on society and increases the risk of hydrometeorological hazards such as floods, cyclones, droughts, and landslides. For farmers, climate change also impacts their agriculture and threatens livelihoods. The La Nina phenomenon which has occurred since September 2022 and is predicted to last until March 2023 causes very high rainfall and has an impact on agricultural output. This information was discussed in the learning exchange between the community and climate researchers. As part of the Local Leadership for Global Impact program, the Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) facilitated a 2-week learning exchange between climate researcher, Dr. Thomas Wijaya with two farmer communities in Gunungkidul, the Ngudi Mulya Farmer Group in Ngoro-oro Sub-village and Melati Women Farmer Group (KWT) in Watu Gajah Sub-village—two farmer groups supported by YAKKUM Emergency Unit (YEU).

Basically, this activity was carried out to gather local knowledge about how communities manage the environment and understand climate change and its consequences. Not only with communities, knowledge exchange was also carried out with local actors such as civil society organizations and governments. It is to reflect and support actions to address climate change, as well as document evidence that knowledge exchange of various actors can drive effective solutions to address climate change.

From this activity, farmer groups who were initially unfamiliar with climate-related terms such as La Nina became more aware of them. Dialogue on local and scientific knowledge strengthens the local community's wisdom to be friendly and protect nature. Some farmers use local knowledge and natural signs—such as the sound of thunder, a suweg plant that grows and emits a foul odor, a kapok tree loses its leaves, and so on—to determine the start of the planting season. 

Farmers are also familiar with the traditional pranata mangsa calendar system where planting should begin in “kapat” or October. Some farmers are also used to using smartphones to exchange information, including with agricultural extension workers. However, farmers generally do not download the BMKG (Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency) application for information on weather forecasts or related to agriculture, such as the KATAM (Integrated Planting Calendar System) developed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Climate-related terms and information need to be disseminated among local communities through various channels ranging from radio to smartphones.

The results of the discussion between the community and climate researchers concluded that local knowledge increases the community's sensitivity to the natural surroundings and is important in combination with scientific knowledge. Risk information from BMKG is important to be translated into easy and practical language for farmers and local actors. This is where field officers from government agencies, NGOs, researchers, to community-based organizations can play a role in transferring information.

Apart from smartphones, farmers are also familiar with rainfall gauges. In Purwosari sub-district, there is only 1 rain gauge. The Ngudi Mulya Farmer's Group was trained and installed a simple ombrometer in their farm. However, manual recording is not always routine. For farmers, knowing what will happen and what to anticipate is important to reduce risks due to unpredictable weather.

Ngudi Mulya

Ngudi Mulya Farmer Group


The local people also protect the forest because they are aware of the function of the forest to store water, prevent erosion, and generate income especially for timber. Most of the farmers in the two communities combine cash crops (paddy, corn, soybeans, chilies, peanuts) and timber trees such as acacia, teak, and mahogany in their fields. These trees are considered as savings that will only be cut when they need money. With trees planted on the sides of the land, the farmland becomes cooler. Higher temperatures will speed up flowering plants but lower yields. Both Ngudi Mulya and Melati have been trained to make organic fertilizer from animal waste to increase soil fertility. Animal waste that is processed into organic fertilizer can minimize methane emissions, considering that methane is 20 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

The results of knowledge exchange in the community were then shared in the workshop with the theme "Translating Climate Information for the Community" which was held on October 4, 2022 in a hybrid session at Disaster Oasis Training Centre. This workshop was attended by 36 participants from GNDR members and partners in Indonesia. Some of the key points:

  • Analysis of climate data can add knowledge and guide anticipatory actions for optimal results. It is important to know basic climate information such as variability of rainfall, radiation, temperature, wind direction, and humidity. This information can be accessed from the BMKG website, as well as other reliable sources. In addition, local communities can install tools to measure rainfall such as an ombrometer. The more tools installed in different topographical locations, the more representative the data collected will be. The results of this rainfall recording can be used to strengthen decision making, such as the start of the planting season, types of plants, etc.

  • Integrated management needs to be implemented to see the actions taken contribute to emission reductions. Raising goats, which on the one hand produces high emissions but increases the economy, needs to be accompanied by emission reduction measures such as the use of manure for fertilizer through an aerobic process.

  • While the role of the climatological agency is very important, the lack of resources can be a challenge to ensure that the public can obtain easy-to-understand information. This is where the role of NGOs, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders as mediators in translating climate information so that it can be understood by local communities – for example through pictures, local languages, color visuals, and so on – becomes the basis for making decisions in their lives and livelihoods. 

  • Mapping of actors is an important step in translating climate information. Different actors will face different impacts of climate change. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change. For this reason, the barriers, challenges and capacities of the groups most at risk must be identified so that they can be actively involved in mitigation and adaptation actions. In addition, the actions taken did not endanger their lives.


Written by Jessica Novia
Edited by Debora Utami