Written by Nancy Saili
The agricultural sector is believed to be the backbone of the Zambian economy thereby alleviating problems associated with poverty and food security. The development of the sector is viewed as one sustainable way of economic growth and ‘Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger’ which is goal number one of the Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2000). The sector contributes to the growth of the economy, to exports, employment of the labour force, income generation, GDP and foreign exchange.
Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture
Recent decades have seen a change in local climate patterns and their interactions with crop yields. It is believed and projected that demand for food will continue to increase in many of the low income countries. This is due to global effect of climate change which is mostly affecting small scale farmers in the developing world. Countries in the developing world like Zambia rely heavily on weather sensitive agriculture such as rain-fed agriculture and as such are adversely affected by effects of climate change. In rain-fed agriculture crop production is highly dependent upon adequate supply of water and optimum temperatures such that an imbalance in any of the two could render a season’s crop to loss. In many countries, increasing climate variability over the years has had a direct influence on the quantity and quality of agricultural production which has led to losses due to weather having an effect on the annual agricultural production and in turn causing uncertainty in projections of food production. Long term climate variations are likely to increase stress on food production and vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climate shifts which may lead to poor performance of the agricultural sector thereby leading to poverty in regions where agricultural production is the main source of livelihood. In a country like Zambia where much of its people are well involved and various livelihoods depend highly on agriculture, farmers maybe badly affected when annual crops fail meaning locally produced food will not be available and since these farmers depend almost entirely on agriculture for employment and income, they not find the money needed to purchase food even if it is available in the market.
Agriculture: Source of Emissions
The agricultural sector is among the main sources of emissions in Zambia. At the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru the Lima Call for Action called for all Parties to develop and communicate INDCs as their ‘contributions’ towards achieving the ultimate objective of Article 2 of the UNFCCC: “to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. In an effort to reduce emissions from the sector, the Government of Zambia through the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives has embarked on programs to promote and persuade thousands to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture such as Conservation Farming and Agro-forestry.
In the past, in many parts of the country such as the Central, Copperbelt, Northern, Luapula and North-Western Provinces farmers (especially subsistence) had been practicing the ‘Slash and Burn’ type of agriculture or as is popularly known to the locals “Chitemene System.” This system involves the cutting down of trees, stacking them in one place and then burning them in order to create a thick layer of ash. After this is done, crops such as maize, finger millet, sorghum or cassava are then planted. However the agricultural productivity of the Chitemene field is limited to only a few years. When yields begin to decline, a new area is cleared for Chitemene, and the initial site is then left bare. This type of agriculture contributes to climate change, air pollution and loss of wildlife/biodiversity. It is destructive to the environment and recently programs are being developed to discourage this type of agriculture.
Benefits of Climate Smart Agriculture
A typical lunch in most Zambian homes is made up of Nshima (carbohydrates), fish/beef/chicken (proteins) and vegetables (vitamins) which together make a balanced diet. All these foods are products of agriculture. And this is an indication that the country’s domestic economy is based on agriculture. Seeing how much agriculture is practiced in Zambia and of what value it is to the country and its people, it would be hoped that only the best agricultural practices be used. This involves the promotion of Climate Smart Agriculture such as Conservation Farming.
Some farmers are already practicing conservation agriculture but the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU), an independent organization in Zambia is hoping to persuade thousands more to adopt these practices. In the local town of Solwezi in North-Western Zambia a conservation farming program has been put into place for the local people. Solwezi now popularly known for its mines: First Quantum’s Kansanshi mine located about 10km north and Barrick Gold (previously Lumwana mine located about 65 km west of the town centre. However Solwezi is more than just a mining town. Solwezi is endowed with favourable soils for agriculture and its people are in full support of the practice.
In an effort to keep the locals off the streets and also to encourage better agricultural practices and environmental conservation, the conservation farming program (inspired by the pioneering work of Zimbabwean farmer Brian Oldreive) was launched under First Quantum’s Kansanshi mine foundation in partnership with Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture. In a land where farmers have previously often exhausted the soil and moved on, the farming program teaches simple practices and can be viewed as a model for sustainable agriculture in Zambia and all of Africa.
The Food and Agricultural Organization defined conservation agriculture as “a concept for resource saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment” (FAO 2007). Conservation farming employs minimal tillage. Unlike traditional methods of burning plant residues, in conservation farming residue from crops are left on the land to minimize erosion and provide organic material. This reduces the need for expensive chemical fertilizers and furrows are created just deep enough to avoid turning up the earth in turn keeping nutrients in the soil and retaining moisture. When the rains come, the water seeps gently into the soil. After which farmers then plant their seeds and wait for the crops to germinate. The success of conservation farming is mainly because it can be practiced by anyone. However, you cannot just hand people seeds and fertilizer and expect them to figure it out. The training program by First Quantum trains participants on how to work their plots of land and make efficient use of the inputs provided to them. This program has proven successful from feedback from participants, it has not only boosted crop yields but also the participants sense of pride through job creation opportunities. According to a sustainability report produced by First Quantum “participants have learned to apply the simple techniques of conservation farming as they feed their families, earn extra income and gain new found pride.” Through the program participants have moved from subsistence to self-sufficiency.
Agriculture is one of the most destructive forces against biodiversity. However, conservation agriculture is a “win-win” for both farmers and environmentalists. Some of the benefits of this practice include; less erosion, better water conservation, improvement in air quality due to lower emissions being produced, soil structure improvement, nutrient retention, soil organic matter enhancement, reduced labor input, precise and efficient use of on and off farm resources (such as seed, fertilizer and manures), and higher yields.
Agro-forestry is a component of conservation farming that involves the planting of trees directly amongst crops so that both will benefit from the naturally-enhancing qualities of the two species. Zambia is a world leader in agro-forestry and could serve as an example for other countries to follow. The benefits of this practice include nitrogen fixation, restoration of agricultural yields, increase in food security, enhanced income generation and reduced pressure to clear nearby forests. This practice is the thread that unites the agriculture and forestry sector in Zambia.
Conservation farming is a key step a in fighting climate change as resources are conserved for future generations. It is a good way of reducing fossil fuels as minimum tillage results in fewer greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, and less use of chemical fertilizers lessens pollution levels in the air, soil and water. It may be effective as many people will be involved in the practice if government sets up more programs to train farmers and encourage them to practice good agricultural practices.
The FAO estimates that as growing population continues to push demand for agricultural products upwards, the world may require about 50% more food by 2030, compared to 1998 (FAO, 2005). This will require consistent productivity by small scale farmers who contribute a substantial amount of food crop in Africa. Conservation farming will put us on the right path to achieve that and it would be wise for our government to push for more programs that encourage for climate smart agricultural practices and are at the same time sustaining for the economy. Conservation agriculture is one of the factors that unite social, economic and environmental sustainability. We have the solutions to the problems that we are currently facing and therefore now is the time to take action and help create a better future for all.