Please tell us about yourself

Despite several advances in modeling techniques, climate projections are not widely used in agricultural decision-making. Kripa Akila Jagannathan (ERG, 2015–16 fellow) wanted to bridge this gap between climate science and decision-making needs by improving the understanding of what farmers consider relevant climate information. She interviewed almond growers in California about how they’d previously used climate information, what climatic variables were most relevant to them, and the content and communication methods that could make information on future climate more usable. Jagannathan’s interviews showed that almond growers have experienced changes in climate over the past few decades that have affected plant growth. She hopes that providing growers with appropriate information on past trends and future projections can help them to make decisions that are better adapted to future climate.

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She is investigating whether climate models with good skills in predicting global metrics (such as global average temperature) are also good predictors of specific metrics of local climate that are relevant to fruit and nut farmers in California, such as chill hours. Kripa hopes that this project is a step forward in efforts to provide California farmers with the best available climate information for their specific local needs.
Her CNI fellowship is with UCOP, where she will be working with UC Cooperative extension specialists and advisors. Kripa’s CNI project involves engaging with almond farmers in the Central Valley to understand how they have used/might use climate information in their decision-making. During this spring semester, Kripa will be conducting interviews and focus group discussions with almond farmers, fruit and nut farm advisors, and Almond industry association – ‘Almond Board of California’ members.

What did you study?

I did my BSc in Botany from Delhi University and MSc in Environmental Studies from TERI School of Advanced Studies. I also did my Master’s Degree in Energy and Resources from University of California, Berkeley

Tell us about your work

Kripa Akila Jagannathan is a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group who will be working with Andrew Jones in the Earth Sciences Division to investigate if climate model outputs are aligned with farmer’s information needs.

She will assess the accuracy of different climate models in predicting specific metrics that are relevant for farmer’s decision making needs. Beginning with the case of one or two major crops in California, her project will identify key climate metrics that are relevant to farmers and that can, in principle, be calculated from available climate projections. In addition, she will also evaluate the skill of the climate models in capturing these metrics. The larger objective of the project is to provide farmers with actionable climate information, and help bridge the gap between climate science and action.

As a 2015 GSE Fellow, Kripa Jagannathan (PhD Candidate, Energy and Resources Group), set out to evaluate the usability of climate science for adaptation planning in agriculture and water management, with a focus on perennial tree crops. For Kripa, research and extension are not separate pursuits. Through interviews, focus group discussions, and workshops with California almond farmers and water utilities officials, she set out to understand the types of climate information that practitioners need, and whether current scientific research is meeting those needs. Kripa learned that almond growers have in fact experienced changes in climate over the past few decades, yet current climate projection tools don’t address crop-specific climate information such as future changes in chill hours and frost patterns. After receiving this feedback she started another project to evaluate how well climate models are able to predict chill hours. She is working with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and the California USDA Climate Hub on further research to develop these decision-relevant tools.

What impact does your fellowship work have on your campus, your community, the state, or the world?  

Kripa hopes that her fellowship work is a step towards understanding how California’s farmers can use climate information to make decisions that are better adapted to future climate. Her LBNL work is an attempt to synthesize large and complicated climate model outputs into information on climate change that can potentially be useful at a local-scale for decision-makers. On the other hand, Kripa’s CNI research has a more social-sciences angle, and aims to understand how and what kind of information on climate change can be most useful from a farmer’s perspective.

What is a recent success in your project? 

Kripa wanted her work to be collaborative and include different types of stakeholders within the process of research. Kripa’s biggest success is putting together and mobilizing a research team that includes a climate modeler from LBNL, a climate specialist from UC Cooperative extension, a fruit and nut farm advisor and a representative of the USDA’s climate sub-hub at Davis. This diverse research team has expertise from the technical, policy as well as practitioner’s perspectives. Having a diverse research team engaging in this question allows for a more grounded and meaningful result to Kripa’s project. To her knowledge, this is the first such collaborative effort for addressing this topic in California.

Why are you interested in the Carbon Neutrality Initiative and the Global Food Initiative? 

Climate Change is one of the biggest threats of our generation. Kripa believes that climate resilient agriculture will play a big part in sustaining agriculture for the future. Her research addresses the key objectives of the CNI and the GFI. She is thrilled and honored to be a part of UC’s effort to sustainably feed the growing population of the world while striving to be carbon neutral.

Your advice to students?

Kripa is now wrapping up her doctoral work and applying to positions including those with cooperative extension. She is determined to continue to get climate information to the people who can use it and simultaneously bring stakeholders’ experiential knowledge to the scientific community. Her advice to other PhD students? Build your research questions from the grounded experience of practitioners. “Start doing this early on. It can be intimidating to speak with farmers when you are still learning the science, but do a few pilot interviews and seek mentorship from academic and extension advisors. Don’t focus too much on having perfect questions, you never will. Start with broad questions and focus on building a relationship with your interviewee. Listen carefully with an open mind to pick up clues on what is important to them so that you have a meaningful conversation.”

What do you hope to do in the future using the tools you developed during the fellowship? 

Kripa hopes her career will focus on climate resilient development. She wants to design climate decision-support tools that are scientifically sound and yet are tailored to the end-user’s needs.