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Climate Action

Climate Finance Scales Food Security in Times of Drought

In March 2024 the President of Zambia, His Excellency Hakainde Hichilema declared a state of emergency in the country as we face a drought set to devastate food and electricity supply.

84 of Zambia’s 116 districts are affected by the prolonged drought as El Nino weather patterns, together with climate change, wreak havoc across the nation. A country that has already faced its worst cholera outbreak in over 20 years this year (also attributed to climate change-related heavy rainfall).
The severe dry spell experienced since the start of the year has affected most of the central and southern half of the country, which according to UNICEF Zambia has left 1 million hectares of maize destroyed – almost half of the country’s maize cultivation. The organization predicts that this will put over 1 million households at serious risk of food insecurity, acute malnutrition, and disease (although unaccounted individuals will probably set this at a much higher number). It is also projected that the drought will lead to a power deficit of 430 Megawatts and affect ground and surface water levels, with severe consequences for sectors beyond agriculture, since +80 percent of Zambia’s electricity generation comes from hydropower.

Image of a drought-plagued maize field.

Climate change has plunged us all into a World of uncertainty; facing unpredictable rainfall patterns and dwindling natural resources due to increased human populations, who now compete with nature for the land to survive. There is a desperate need for the World to change its approach to food production, as it becomes threatened worldwide, contributing to food price inflation, with those in low-income and developing countries hardest hit.

These extreme weather conditions, fueled by climate change, cause short-term disruptions in crop growing and long-term changes in regional growing conditions. Extreme weather during critical periods of the growing season causes far-reaching disruptions and climate change increases the frequency and severity of said extreme weather events.

In response to these challenges, the concept of Climate-smart Agriculture (CSA) has emerged as a holistic approach to end food insecurity and promote sustainable development while addressing climate change issues. The Conservation Farming Minimal Tillage (CF MT) practices are CSA; lower greenhouse gases; improve input use efficiency; and enable a farmer to carry out the land preparation operation before, planting with the first heavy planting rains (irrespective of when those rains now arrive), which is a crucial benefit that increases on farm yields and productivity even during difficult growing seasons (such as this one).

The hand hoe basins and animal draft rip lines that make up the minimal tillage practices increase water capture and moisture retention insulating, in part, a household from one-off and longer-term climate-related events and resilience to changing climates, while ensuring food security.

Access to education, health care facilities, and socio-economic initiatives are key to development, however, they pale in comparison to food security.
When a household is food insecure it is all-consuming. It impacts the family at the most basic level of a human’s requirements to survive and makes anything beyond securing basic nutrition seem inconceivable. Chronic food insecurity and the pressure and trauma imposed by it transcends into all aspects of a family’s life and creates barriers on a physical, mental, financial, and social level.

CF MT is vital to addressing the issue of food insecurity in Africa. It is based on the interrelated principles of minimal mechanical soil disturbance, permanent soil covers with living or dead plant material, and crop diversification through rotation or intercropping. It helps farmers maintain and boost yields and increase profits while reversing land degradation, protecting the environment, and responding to the growing challenges of climate change.

Anton Sikala, BCP Supported Lead Farmer, Mnkhanya Chiefdom.

It is important to note though that it is the minimal tillage practices that set the practices apart from traditional tillage practices such as ploughing which are inherently wasteful, environmentally destructive, and low-yielding – even during normal rainfall seasons. Most conventional farmers practice crop rotations and have been doing so for millennia.

An estimated 60% of Zambia’s population is dependent on subsistence farming, and it is estimated that subsistence farming accounts for 48% of the World’s deforestation. Traditional methods of ‘slash and burn’ in Zambia, which drive the progressive clearing of land over time are incredibly damaging to the environment. While the use of outdated tillage methods is labor-intensive and time-consuming for the farmers.

CF MT minimizes tillage, follows the methods of crop-rotation and ultimately reduces time, labor, and the wear and tear of animals and machines substantially. From a production point of view, the most obvious and immediate result of the practices is increased yields using less land or existing holdings. There are also longer-term benefits related to improved soil nutrition and an increased soil organic pool.

Beyond these immediate and noticeable rewards, having to spend such substantially fewer hours on farming, yet producing a much higher yield (enough so that there is a surplus to sell and trade) changes people’s lives. Especially those of women. Food security lifts the barriers put in place by chronic hunger while having a surplus of crops opens up a whole new area of trade and business opportunities.

As a country as reliant on subsistence and commercial farming as Zambia is, we believe that together with the Government and our community partners, our REDD+ initiative Model, combined with livelihood schemes, such as CSA methods, can make a difference!

The food production system, which is a component of agrifood systems, is at the core of this complex challenge, being a significant contributor to climate change and a victim of its impact.

The agrifood sector is highly vulnerable, and small-scale farmers in the Global South are especially at risk as current efforts to adapt to climate change are not sufficient. However, any immediate and deep reduction in emissions cannot be achieved without including the agrifood sector, as it accounts for nearly a third of the world’s GHG emissions. REDD+ has been instrumental in funding our CSA activities to date.

BCP, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, has been working with farmers to address food security challenges through the farmer-to-farmer extension model. To respond to the country’s vulnerability to climate change challenges, which directly impact food security in the country, BCP has invested in the CF MT Climate-Smart Agriculture practices. With agriculture expansion as such a major threat to the forests, CF MT Climate-Smart Agriculture helps to provide food security and a sustainable future for some of Zambia’s most nutrition-insecure families.

Over the past three growing seasons, maize yield results speak for themselves, with yields under the CF MT practices proving 130% higher than crops established under conventional tillage practices. The higher yields in the maize crop in turn have enabled CF MT adopters to realize 168-198% more money from that crop then was realized under conventional tillage practices. When one factor in the costs associated with growing one hectare of maize, conventional tillage farmers can lose money.

In terms of soya outcomes; the yield results from the CF farmers saw an average of 1.5 tones – representing yield increases of 60-126% higher than conventionally tilled yields from the MoA annual crop assessment. These results are transformative and enable households to move away from the poverty-stricken and food-insecure margins that characterize the lives of many subsistence farmers.

To date we have helped train over 800 Lead Farmers in CSA methods, who have in turn helped over 17,800 Follower Farmers adapt to the same methods of more sustainable land use and farming in our two established projects in Zambia. Having witnessed the significance of equiping farmers with this knowledge we are taking measures to implement CSA training in the early stage and post-verification phases of BCP’s Kafue-Zambezi Community Forests Project, which is currently in its development phase to scale up CSA in the western province of Zambia as a proven mitigation outcome.

To feed an ever-increasing (and hungrier) global population sustainably CSA needs to be increased to align available finance with the relevance of the sector. Despite causing one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, agrifood systems receive 4% of climate finance, with only a fifth of this going to smallholders.

Current financial flows need to be realigned to support a sustainable agrifood system transformation that works for everyone… and Carbon finance could be one such option!

In the coming years, BCP plans to scale up CSA activities in Eastern, Lusaka, and Western provinces.


Mike Mailloux

Country Manager

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