Climate heroes bridge gaps in Zambia

Real-time weather forecasts help farmers win their battle against the impact of climate change.

Agro-meteorological services help nearly 1 million farmers in Zambia in building climate resilient lives.

The work starts and ends in the countryside, where climate heroes like Chief Chitambo of the Serenje District in Central Zambia are using improved climate information to inform local actions that will make a big difference.

“I am setting aside 12,000 hectares for community forest management and support for the regeneration of indigenous forest in my area. I will also encourage people to start raising trees and plant them in degraded forests,” says Chitambo.

With funding from the Global Environment Facility Least Developed Countries Fund (GEF-LDCF), UNDP-supported Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Project provides regular weather forecasts and agriculture advisories for farming communities, aiming to minimize the impact of adverse weather on crops and boost agricultural production.

Grace Milimo, 36, lives in the Southern Province, one of the driest region of Zambia. She has had to deal with harvest loss more than once in the past, but now manages to produce “bumper” harvests to protect her family against food insecurity and pay for her children’s education.

Innovating for change

Aside from supporting agro-meteorological services, UNDP is collaborating with the Government of Zambia and partner agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) to support Zambia’s implementation of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.

Through a United Nations-led partnership including FAO, UNDP and WFP, the Government of Zambia recently accessed US$32 million from the Green Climate Fund for a 7-year, US$137 million project that will support nearly 1 million farmers in Zambia in building climate resilient lives.

Bumper harvests help protect families against food insecurity and provide extra revenue.

In fulfilling its contribution to the Paris Agreement — and global goals to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees while ensuring no one is left behind in terms of economic and social development — the project will promote the conservation of water, improve the use of irrigation technologies, and strengthen climate information services.

Collecting data, saving lives

Droughts and floods over the last 30 years have cost Zambia more than US$13.8 billion according to recent estimates — that is equivalent to 4 percent of annual GDP growth. The impacts of climate change could cost the country an additional US$$4.3 billion in lost GDP over the next decade if immediate actions aren’t taken.

More than 68 automated weather stations and 40 manual stations have already been installed across the country.

To help smallholder farmers be better prepared for climate shocks, the projects gives them access to regular weather forecasts and agriculture advisories to help them adjust their crops to the weather. More than 68 automated weather stations and 40 manual stations have already been installed across the country.

These stations also act as early warning systems for extreme weather events, enabling farmers to shelter their animals and protect their income and families. The Met Department is now providing rudimentary meteorological training to rural farming cooperatives across the country.

Met Officer Abraham Sikalzwe engages smallscale farmers in the Eastern Province.

Finding common ground

Tissa Mwale Adamson, 38, who leads a group of 86 women farmers in the drought-prone district of Mambwe in Zambia’s Eastern Province says even barriers such as illiteracy cannot prevent them from using their newly found skills. Some of her friends who cannot read the text messages let their children or people from the village to read it and interpret for them in their local language.

The project is using mobile phones and solar powered radios to enable farmers get weather forecasts while on the move.

They may not understand the science of climate change, she says, but they have first-hand experience of its effects. Combining the traditional knowledge of predicting the weather with scientific forecasts, the project has succeeded in engaging farmers in making key decisions for the coming season.

Food security

Food security remains a serious challenge in Zambia. Despite more than a decade of consistent economic growth, around 40 percent of children under 5 are stunted and in the countryside 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

In a country that largely relies on rain-fed agriculture, unpredictable weather patterns and droughts over the past ten years have only exacerbated the issue.

With improved climate information, Roida and other smallholder farmers across the country are improving productivity.

Roida Zulu and her family live in Mambwe District in Zambia’s Eastern Province, where inconsistent rainfall patterns have made it difficult to grow staple crops like maize.

“Many years ago, we predicted the weather and knew when to plant. But these days, the weather is unpredictable. Now the dry season can bring continuous rain while the hot season is too wet,” she says.”The use of weather and climate information assisted me to plant in good time. I have increased maize production from less than a tonne per hectare to five tonnes per hectare.”

With improved climate information, Roida and other smallholder farmers across the country are improving productivity and reducing the risks that climate change brings.

Improved planning on a national scale, empowerment of local climate actions like Chief Chitambo’s pledge to protect 12,000 hectares of forest, and scaled-up work carried out through the new GCF-financed climate resilient agriculture project will all come together to propel Zambia’s economy forward, protect development gains and reach Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement.

The project also promotes the conservation of water and improved use of irrigation technologies.

Text and photos: Moses Zangar Jr / UNDP Zambia