Advances in our ability to predict climate fluctuations months in advance suggest opportunity to improve management of climatic risk in agriculture, but only if particular conditions are in place. This paper outlines prerequisites to beneficial forecast use; highlights key issues, approaches and challenges related to each; and suggests an evolutionary strategy. The first prerequisite is that forecast information must address a need that is both real and perceived. Second, benefit arises only through viable decision options that are sensitive to forecast information. Third, benefit depends on prediction of the components of climate variability that are relevant to viable decisions. Fourth, appropriate forecast use requires effective communication of relevant information. Finally, sustained use requires institutional commitment and favorable policies. It is useful to consider three phases of effort: an exploratory phase to gain understanding and assess potential, a pilot phase characterized by co-learning between researchers and target decision makers, and an operational phase focusing on engaging and equipping relevant institutions. Although examples of use and potential use, and advances in institutional support, are cause for optimism, use of climate prediction by agriculture s still too new to support strong generalizations about its value. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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