Scaling Up Climate Adaptation Solutions for Zambia’s Smallholder Farmers

The Zambia Growth Opportunity Performance for Results Program (ZAMGRO) is promoting agricultural diversification, sustainability, and jobs to help Zambia achieve its potential as an agricultural powerhouse for Africa in the face of climate change.

W ith its expansive land and water resource base, and a strategic location bordering eight countries, Zambia is brimming with potential to become an agricultural powerhouse in Africa.

Revitalizing the agricultural sector is vital to the growth of Zambia’s economy as it contributes approximately 7% of the country’s gross domestic product and forms an integral part of the country’s poverty reduction strategies.
However, climate change poses significant challenges to the agricultural sector in Zambia – especially for the smallholder farmers that produce 80% of the country’s domestic food supply. The drought that accompanied the 2015–16 El Niño season decreased affected households’ maize yields by about 20 percent and their income by up to 37 percent. Yet, investment in climate resilience has not materialized from both the public and private sectors of the economy.

Recognizing the urgent need for action in transforming Zambia’s agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture of Zambia (MoA), supported by the World Bank and the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), launched the Zambia Growth Opportunity Performance for Results Program (ZAMGRO) in February 2023 to promote agricultural diversification, sustainability, and jobs in the agri-food sector in Zambia. ZAMGRO is a US$300 million effort funded by the World Bank that puts policy reforms and institutional enhancements at the center stage of agricultural growth. The Zambian government is shifting its focus from supporting agricultural subsidies to redirecting public expenditures to subsectors such as irrigation and agricultural extension. Additionally, it is reaffirming its commitment to exporting food and improving its grain marketing arrangements.

Working with the local technical partner, Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI) and MoA, GCA is supporting the mainstreaming of digital climate advisory services within the ZAMGRO Program.

What are the issues affecting Zambia’s farmers?

As part of its research on the digital climate adaptation landscape in Zambia under this program, IAPRI reached out to smallholder farmers to understand the issues they are facing.
Mr. Michelo, a farmer leader in Chongwe, said that farmers know what leads to low productivity issues: low use of improved agricultural technologies, climate change issues including floods and droughts, depleted soil nutrients, and inadequate provision of extension services that provide scientific information and advice to help smallholder farmers improve their yields.
Another farmer from Chongwe, Mr. Tembo, shared that the variable rainfall pattern in recent years has affected his crop productivity. The 2022-23 rainy season, for example, started early enough but heavy downpours submerged his fields, which will likely affect his harvest.
Mr. Tembo is not alone. Several farming communities, especially those in the Central, Eastern and Southern parts of Zambia, experienced unprecedented floods during the 2022-23 rainy season, inundating crop fields and displacing households. At the same time, over the last decade, parts of Southern and Western Zambia have received less rainfall, increasing the urgency of adopting irrigation practices for drier regions.
Agrobusinesses are also not spared by the impacts of climate change. A female agro dealer shared that when rainfall is delayed, sales go down because farmers do not purchase agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, seeds and equipment until they are certain rain will come.

Scaling up adaptation for Zambia’s smallholder farmers

Farmers in Zambia are already employing climate-smart agricultural practices to adapt to the changing climate, including crop diversification, conservation farming, crop rotation, intercropping, and ripping. In fact, Zambia is a leading country in Africa in terms of crop area under conservation farming practices, but most of it comes from large scale commercial farming sector, while very few smallholders practice this technique which is key for climate adaptation.
However, the farmers interviewed stressed the need for more training so that they can learn new strategies to enhance their resilience against climate change.
To address this need, GCA and IAPRI in collaboration with the MoA are organizing capacity-building on digital climate advisory services for farmer leaders, extension agents, and young people under the ZAMGRO project.
At the launch of the project, World Bank Country Manager for Zambia Sahr Kpundeh said, “I would like to thank the Global Center on Adaptation for its valuable complementary support to ZAMGRO to scale up our efforts in building food systems climate resilience in Zambia. GCA’s support will help to strengthen farmers’ knowledge and skills in climate smart agricultural technologies and build their resilience to future weather shocks, which is crucial for food and nutrition security in Zambia.”
In addition, GCA and IAPRI in collaboration with MoA will facilitate multi-stakeholder policy engagement sessions to promote private sector investment so that digital adaptation solutions can be scaled up to reach more smallholder farmers.
Climate risks on major agricultural value chains, including maize, groundnuts, sorghum and rice, will also be assessed to identify appropriate digital adaptation solutions to reduce climate impacts.
Potential opportunities for adaptation jobs for youth will also be explored and identified through the program.
GCA is supporting ZAMGRO through the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP). The AAAP is an Africa-owned, Africa-led initiative spearheaded by GCA and the African Development Bank with the support of the African Union and African leaders. The AAAP is mobilizing US $25 billion for adaptation investments in Africa in the next five years. GCA’s AAAP Upstream Financing Facility is mainstreaming the best climate adaptation science and solutions into programs across Africa. In its first year of operation, the Upstream Financing Facility has influenced more than $3.5 billion in downstream investments with Multilateral Development Banks in 19 countries across Africa.

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