Coping with climate change in Southern Africa

By the time CTA’s regional flagship project for Southern Africa comes to an end in 2020, around 140,000 small-scale farmers in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi will have adopted a range of climate-smart strategies to help them cope with drought and erratic weather patterns. About 75,000 farmers are benefiting from the bundle of climate-smart agricultural solutions at the end of the first year of implementation.

The ‘Scaling up Climate Smart Agricultural Solutions for Cereal and Livestock Farmers’ project consists of four main components. It is providing farmers with access to weather information and agricultural advice, which they receive on their mobile phones. The project also promotes the use of drought-tolerant seeds as well as encouraging farmers to buy index-based weather insurance. Farmers are also being encouraged to combine crops and livestock to increase the robustness of their farming systems, diversify their livelihood options, enhance the quality of their soils and help them cope with climatic shocks.

The project’s foot soldiers in Zambia are 331 Camp Extension Officers (CEOs) employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. “Our biggest challenges are the way the distribution of the rain has changed and animal diseases,” says Grace Sohati, CEO for Mwachisompola Camp in Chibombo District. “The CTA project is definitely helping me, and our farmers, learn how to cope better with climate change.”

After training, some 230 farmers in Grace’s camp were registered with the project. Since then, she has kept in close touch with the farmers, holding training sessions at which she urges them to plant drought-resistance varieties, pay close attention to the SMS messages they receive and consider diversifying their crops and introducing livestock.

The Zambian Open University (ZAOU), which manages the project in Zambia, organised twelve seed fairs, one in each project district, to foster greater awareness about drought-tolerant seeds. The fairs provided a forum for commercial seed companies, agro-dealers, extension workers and over 800 farmers. “We were very happy to be invited,” says John Muzondiwa, technical sales representative with Pannar Seeds. “Fairs like this are a great way for us to meet large numbers of farmers and talk to them about products like drought-tolerant varieties of maize.”

Regional projects like this require strong partnerships between organisations which bring their own comparative advantages to the table. In Zambia, ZAOU, MUSIKA Development Initiatives and Professional Insurance – a private-sector organisation – lead project activities. In Zimbabwe, the key players are the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) and the telecommunications company, Econet Wireless, while in Malawi the National Smallholder Farmers Association is leading the work in collaboration with the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services and NICO General Insurance Company.

During the first year of the project, some 75,000 smallholder farmers were digitally registered. Over 48,000 farmers began receiving weather and advisory services by text. 8,000 farmers received information about drought-tolerant seeds, and over 400 agro-dealers were trained in climate-smart agricultural practices.

The success of the project owes much to the collaboration between the public and private sectors and generators of knowledge on climate-smart agriculture. “It was tremendously important to involve both government and the private sector,” reflects Kolawole Udubote, Country Team Leader and Dean of Agricultural Sciences at ZAOU. “The government sees us as a valuable partner and this has given the project a high political profile.”

Development projects often falter once donor support ceases. “We want to change this narrative,” says Oluyede Ajayi, CTA’s Senior Programme Coordinator for Agriculture and Climate Change. “One of the best ways of doing that is to establish a solid investment case for partners who were there before the project and will be there afterwards.” As private sector companies involved in the project have a financial interest in its success, there is a good chance that its influence will continue beyond its lifetime.