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Rural farmers coping with climate change

Rural farming

SHE grew up knowing that the rains start on October 24, the day Zambia got independence from colonial rule, or a week later.
But surprisingly for 76-year-old Iness Jere of Chipata’s Mgabi village in Paramount Chief Mpezeni’s area, the weather patterns have changed. The rains now start in December.
“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. This makes it difficult for us to plant maize [seed] because it is the crop that needs a considerable amount of water to survive. I have decided to diversify and I now grow a variety of crops,” Ms Jere says.
The septuagenarian has opted to grow other crops after realising that she is getting poor yields from maize, the development that is negatively affecting her household food security.
Another challenge Ms Jere is facing is the rising temperatures. “We have a problem of high temperatures here, which makes our plants to wither before reaching maturity stage.”
Rising temperatures and changes in weather patterns are significantly shaping the face of Zambia’s agriculture and that of other countries in the world.
Farmers in Chief Mpezeni’s area are already grappling with the problem of adapting to rising temperatures and erratic rains.
For Zambia, like many other countries where economies depend on agriculture as the chief sector, climate change is emerging as one of the major threats to sustainable development.
These changes in weather patterns, coupled with the country’s fast-growing population, are presenting a question on the ability of agriculture to continue meeting Zambia’s food needs.
To mitigate these changes, Ms Jere’s family and communities across the Mpezeni chiefdom have started transforming farming practices to enhance food security.
The villagers learnt about the good practices from the Department for International Development (DFID)-funded project that was being run by Care International Zambia, a non-governmental organisation.
“I now plant crops that will need less water like pigeon peas, groundnuts and cassava. I am slowly graduating from planting maize because it seems to have challenges and always gives me a lower yield. I am now planting crops that do not need fertiliser,” Ms Jere says.
This is where ‘climate smart agriculture’ comes in. Climate smart agriculture is a term that has been coined to position agriculture as being vital in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Climate smart agriculture includes practices and technologies that sustainably increase productivity, support farmers’ adaptation to climate change and reduce levels of greenhouse gas emission.
It can also help governments to achieve national food security and poverty reduction goals.
Climate smart approaches include diverse components, from farm-level techniques to international policy and finance mechanisms.
Kebby Banda, another resident of Mgabi village, has changed the tillage pattern in his field.
Mr Banda attended a community meeting organised by Care International Zambia, where he was taught the importance of practising climate smart agriculture.
“Before I had any knowledge of climate smart agriculture, I used to practise weird kind of techniques like early burning, perfect tillage and field clearing. But now, I am practising these techniques and my yields have improved,” Mr Banda says.
Zero tillage and laser land levelling in farms also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Experts say efforts to reduce food insecurity must include building the resilience of rural communities to shocks and strengthening their adaptive capacity to cope with increased variability and growing climate change-friendly crops.
Regionally, several interventions such as policy change and community sensitisation have been put in place. In the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) regions, climate change effects include increased frequency of extreme weather events such as flooding, storms and droughts.
The change in weather patterns has significant social, economic and political impacts, including effects on food production.
Water availability is becoming an issue and is posing serious threats to the SADC region’s food production systems and its progress towards poverty reduction.
The nature and extent of climate change not only hinder human development and environmental conservation, but also form a major threat to human security at regional and national levels.
Smallholder farmers, the largest population group in the region, have not been spared.
According to the latest African Agriculture Status Report, farmers on the continent are already struggling to adapt to rising temperatures and erratic rainfall.
Temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to rise between 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, posing an increased risk of both drought and flooding.
As climate change turns up the heat, Africa’s food security and its ability to generate economic growth that benefits poor people, most of whom are farmers, depends on their ability to adapt to more stressful conditions.
The report observes that smallholder farmers urgently need money to invest in climate smart agriculture, knowing that they (smallholder farmers) are the mainstay of food production across Africa.
“When farmers are able to employ climate smart techniques, it makes a huge difference. Helping smallholders adapt to climate challenges today will prepare them for even more serious future challenges and how to be food secure.
“Climate smart agriculture must be the vehicle for sustained economic and social prosperity and for ensuring that countries in Africa reach the goal of being high middle-income countries,” the report reads in part.
This change in weather patterns necessitates the need for more investment in agricultural approaches that are adaptable to climate change, and sustainable in the long term.

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