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Food Security and Nutrition

Climate Change: A Tale of Weather Extremes with Mixed Fortunes for Zambia

Planeta Hatuleke, a small scale farmer of Pemba District in Southern Zambia, stands in a maize field. This year, she hopes that she will not be one of the country’s 2.3 million food insecure people thanks to the climate smart agriculture techniques she implemented while planting her crop in November. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

LUSAKA and PEMBA DISTRICT, Zambia, Jan 15 2020 (IPS) - It is early Saturday morning and Planeta Hatuleke, a small scale farmer of Pemba District in Southern Zambia, awakens to the comforting sound of rainfall. As the locals say, the “heavens have opened” and it is raining heavily after a prolonged dry spell. 

“This is welcome after two weeks of a dry spell,” says Hatuleke with a sigh of relief. “The rainfall pattern has not been consistent so far; we could be headed for a repeat of last season” she adds pessimistically.

  • The 2018/19 farming season was characterised by drought and prolonged dry spells, which, according to the government Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), left 2.3 million people severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian food assistance.

Hatuleke along with her 8-member family members are part of the hunger stricken population. Last farming season, the family harvested only five 50Kg-bags of maize, 10 short of their annual food requirements.

“It has not been easy to feed my family since the five bags finished. I am grateful to government for relief food support but for big families like mine, we have to supplement through other means,” says the 55-year old widow. “As a family, we have been surviving on sales from our gardening activities.”

  • Statistics from DMMU show that at least 70,000 metric tonnes of relief food (maize grain and maize meal) has been distributed to the affected people between September 2019 and January 2020.
  • According World Food Programme (WFP) country director for Zambia, Jennifer Bitonde, the United Nations’ food agency “requires $36 million to effectively support the government in responding to the crisis.”
  • WFP is currently supporting the government’s response by delivering government-supplied maize meal, as well as by procuring and delivering pulses to ensure a nutrition-sensitive food basket. WFP is also working closely with partners to monitor food distributions and guarantee that resources reach those most in need.
    • In a statement after receiving a contribution of $3.39 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help meet the immediate food needs of drought-affected people in Zambia, Bitonde added that “USAID’s contribution represents approximately 10 percent of the total needs and will allow WFP to ensure that drought-affected people will not go to bed hungry during this year’s lean season.’’
    • Other partners who have made a contribution to WFP Zambia include the Swedish government, which has contributed $2 million, and the Italian government with a contribution of $ 610,000.

Last October, the three U.N. food agencies—the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and WFP—called for urgent funding to avert a major hunger crisis and for the international community to step up investment in long-term measures to combat the impact of climate shocks and build the capacity of communities and countries to withstand them.

They warned that a record 45 million people across the 16-nation Southern African Development Community would be severely food insecure in the next six months starting from October 2019.

At the time, they reported that there were more than 11 million people experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Phases 3 and 4) in nine countries: Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Eswatini and Lesotho. 

“Late rains, extended dry periods, two major cyclones and economic challenges have proved a recipe for disaster for food security and livelihoods across Southern Africa,” said Alain Onibon, FAO’s Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa.

“As it could take many farming communities at least two to three growing seasons to return to normal production, immediate support is vital.  Now is the time to scale up agricultural emergency response. We need to ensure farmers and agro-pastoralists take advantage of the forecasted good rains, assuming they happen, as this will be crucial in helping them rebuild their livelihoods.”

While Southern Africa has experienced normal rainfall in just one of the last five growing seasons, persistent drought, back-to-back cyclones and flooding have wreaked havoc on harvests in a region overly dependent on rain-fed, smallholder agriculture.

Interestingly, Zambia is experiencing both climate extremes at the same time. While farmers in the southwestern parts of the country are anxious about the rainfall pattern that has been erratic so far, their counterparts in the northeast are battling flash floods, adding pressure on the already overstretched resource base.

Over 300 families have been reported as being affected by floods in the Mambwe and Lumezi districts of Zambia’s Eastern Province.

And Zambian President Edgar Lungu, continues to urge government technocrats to work at finding a lasting solution to the climate problem.

“So as we provide relief, I think that we should put our heads together. My Permanent Secretaries are here so we can work together to find a lasting solution,” said Lungu when he toured and interacted with flood victims on Jan 9.  

  • It is unanimously agreed globally that climate change is due to human activities that cause damage (either directly or indirectly) to the environment. Such activities include overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and deforestation, among others.

Experiencing a critical energy deficit, with over 2 million food-insecure people to feed due to a climate-induced droughts and flash floods in a single year, are key lessons for leaders and ordinary people alike.

This December, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), Zambia’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Ndashe Yumba highlighted the adverse effects of climate change on his country’s natural resource-sensitive sectors, such as energy and agriculture, and how the country was moving away from a business-as-usual approach.

“There is still increasing evidence that climate change is negatively impacting critical sectors of our country,” said Yumba during a high-level event at COP25.

“In the recent past, drastic reduction in precipitation and rising temperatures in Zambia has led to a reduced agricultural productivity by about 16 percent and subsequently slowed down our economic growth. While Zambia is still pursuing her aspirations on socio-economic development, it is mindful of the need to maintain a healthy environment in order to achieve sustainable development…a recipe to a healthy climate is a healthy environment,” he added.

Back in Pemba District in Southern Zambia, Hatuleke is hoping that climate smart agricultural principles which are routed in sustainable environmental management, and which she has recently implemented, will bring her a better harvest this year. 

“I ripped my field and planted early; just after the first rains in mid-November and as you can see, my maize is at tussling stage,” she says. “I am hopeful of a good harvest, provided it consistently rains in the remaining half of the season.”

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