October 13, 2015

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

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For diplomats, the Conference of the Parties (COP) is seen as one of the last chances to achieve a global agreement on the fight against climate change. For a country like Zambia, where rural poverty stands approximately at 80 per cent of the population, climate change is a challenge to the country’s attempts to reduce rural poverty and a major threat to sustainable development. For people like Adelaide Jere, a woman farmer in Mgubudu village in Chipata (Eastern Zambia), nevertheless, climate change is a major menace to food security.


In Zambia, the weather is changing. The rainy season begins in December, much later in the year than it once did. The duration is now unpredictable, with enormous repercussions on rural farmers who find difficulties to understand the best timing for planting. Eventually, uncertainty threatens the already strained Zambia’s food security status.


‘I remember growing up knowing that the rains start in the last week of October, but now it is different, the rains are coming in December’, Adelaide says, ‘this makes plant maize more difficult. It needs a considerable amount of water to survive’. Once realized that she was risking her household food security, Adelaide has decided to diversify. Still, not many farmers in the village have this long-term outlook.


Rising temperatures, erratic rains and changes in weather patterns are significantly shaping the face of Zambia’s agriculture and that of other countries in Africa. ‘We have a problem of high temperatures here, which makes our plants to wither before reaching maturity stage,’ Adelaide adds. ‘Year in year out, farmers keep observing that temperatures are increasing and that there are frequent droughts’ Levy, another rural farmers, echoes.


In order to alleviate the impact of climate change, Adelaide demands more contextual and participatory approaches to development projects. ‘For example,’ she says, ‘we need researches focusing on local needs, and representation of rural farmers at any level of decision’. The risk, otherwise, is to increase the gap between the global development agenda and the rural farmers.


Levy adds that some targeted information about climate change and its effects on the agricultural sector would be important to prevent reduction of livestock health and damages to the already-poor infrastructures. ‘With this information’, she says, ‘farmers would be able to plan possible changes in yields, water shortages, increases in pests and livestock disease incidence’.


In Zambia, agriculture, thanks to a huge number of small-scale farmers, continues to be an important source of livelihood, supporting about 70 per cent of the population. However, small-scale farmers depend on rains for crop production, mainly due to the absence of irrigation equipment in the rural areas. Changes in frequency and severity of weather events, therefore, not only reduce agricultural production, but also they affect directly food security.


A response to this major threats, Donald Zulu – an agro-forestry specialist and program manager at the Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre – says, is organic farming, which achieves long-term results through sustainable practices like green manures, fertilizer trees, compost and animal manure, and minimum tillage through planting basins and ripped lines.


The reliance on rain frequency in sub-Saharan Africa, and Zambia in particular, added to low economic development and a diversity of local conditions, makes new strategies of adaptation an imperative for policy makers and donors.


Moreover, if we think, as Zulu says, that ‘climate change will continue bringing severe weather conditions, especially in form of droughts and floods’, the need to avoid significant consequences on food production and food security must be in the agenda.


If we accept the organic challenge in Zambia, Zulu continues, three key strategies may be efficient. ‘Traditional or local seed varieties are able to withstand limited moisture. Rich in organic matter soils help in soil moisture retention – especially during long droughts, while minimum tillage practices help in rain water harvesting’.


It is clear that climate change affects negatively all rain-fed-dependent agricultural systems in Zambia as well as in most sub-Saharan countries. Zulu is even more pessimist: ‘Regions with low adaptive capacity due to poverty, lack of infrastructure, services and appropriate governance will be severely affected’.


Organic farming, local seeds and traditional varieties may be valid responses; meaningless responses if they come without adequate advocacy at the rural level, where most of the farmers ignore the consequences of climate change.

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About Doreen Chilumbu

Doreen Chilumbu

Doreen Chilumbu is an African award winning Journalist specialized in development and advocacy journalism in science and human rights.

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