Eye witness: Zambia

02 November 2009 | News story

Communities across Southern Africa are looking to new ways of coping with the impacts of climate change, mainly the droughts and floods which are disrupting their farming cycles and undermining their livelihoods. They are learning how to sustainably manage the natural resources that are critical to sustain them in uncertain conditions.

At the same time, there is growing recognition that development assistance policies do not properly take into account the impacts of climate change and are therefore in danger of proving counterproductive. IUCN’s Climate Change and Development project which is underway in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia is working to address this. The project aims, in conjunction with its implementing partners, to ensure that climate change policies and activities incorporate the role of healthy ecosystems such as forests and watersheds in supporting agriculture and livelihoods, and increasing community resilience to climate stress in the long term.

Farmers who practice conventional agricultural methods on degraded soils and rely on costly fertilizers have become highly susceptible to climate change and have suffered frequent crop failure. By adopting conservation agriculture, which involves, for example, diversifying and rotating the range of crops they grow and learning new skills such as beekeeping, these farmers can increase their yields and regenerate their soils and their local environment. And, by becoming more self-sufficient, they can free themselves from government food aid.

In Zambia and Tanzania assessments have been carried out among farmers, beekeepers and fishermen on how to improve their physical and economic security. Ecosystem-based actions such as conservation agriculture, small-scale irrigation and rainwater harvesting offer significant potential as does the sustainable use of non-timber forest products such as indigenous fruits and vegetables.

Here, some farmers from the rural region of Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia describe how climate change is affecting them and how they are changing their practices to try to adapt.

“I am Peter Malata. The problems we used to have were due to late cultivation but now we are told to plant early and we have started to practice conservation farming. Burning charcoal has destroyed our local vegetation but we have now stopped this. We used to have a lot of trees in this area but people came from other places to cut them. We are thankful for the people who are teaching us about farming. If we follow their teachings we will reduce poverty in our villages.

The advantage of conservation farming is that the soil is maintained and helps to hold water. We keep the grass cover now so that in hot periods the soil is protected. Although I have a house in Lusaka, I came to live here. I want to encourage my friends who do not have homes in town to move to the villages and find a place where they can live and start farming because it is cheaper to grow your own food than to buy it.”

“My name is Tendayi Tagota

I started bee-keeping after being taught at Katunga. With the money made from beekeeping, you can buy everything you need.

With climate change the weather is now unpredictable. One way climate change is affecting us is by causing shortages of food but if you plant crops early you may solve the problem. People here are diversifying, some are becoming beekeepers, others are keeping pigs, cattle or goats.

I do not have a husband, and through bee keeping I can send my children to school and if we cannot grow enough food for the family, I can always buy it.”

“My name is Rodgers Nkhata, I came to Kapiri Mposhi in 1997

The main problem we have had is over-using the soil. We just apply fertilizer every year forgetting that the soil is being spoiled. In the past the harvest was okay because fertilizer was cheap but nowadays it is expensive and if you don’t use it you’ll have a poor harvest.

We have never seen the rains come as early as they have done this year. We’re also experiencing prolonged drought which our forefathers never saw. The rains are heavier and cause flooding - we’ve seen people’s crops, fertilizer and seeds get washed away.

Through our courses and meetings we are told not to cut down trees because if all the trees are cut, the rain patterns are also disturbed. We cultivate maize to feed our families and for selling. We also grow watermelons, cassava, groundnuts, cotton and tomatoes. Watermelons help to replace nitrogen in the soil.

We used to hear about conservation farming from afar, especially in the eastern province, here it was very strange. Now due to the workshops we have been having, we have discovered its advantages.”