Zambia: When crop dreams are crushed

African Risk Capacity Group
5 min readApr 4, 2022
Drought impact on corn fields.

The first quarter of 2022 has been marked by drought conditions in the southern parts of Africa, particularly Zambia. Here’s a look at the causes, pertinent issues, and those working on relief measures.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), small-scale farmers are the country’s predominant food producers as they meet as much as 80 percent of the country’s food needs.

However, their capacity to increase productivity is constrained by the high cost of farming inputs, limited agricultural infrastructure, poor post-harvest storage facilities and limited access to credit.

Added to this situation, are the ravages of climate change and weather variability in the region, meaning that the incidence of extreme weather events — such as drought — have over the past decade threatened a mainly rainfed agricultural season.

In fact, Zambia ranks in first place on a CARE International report entitled “The Most Under-Reported Humanitarian Crises of 2021”, which seeks to highlight the 10 crises that didn’t make headlines over the course of that year but really should have.

“Prolonged droughts, climate change, Covid-19 and poverty, which mainly affects women, rarely made it into the news. As a result, the country moved into first place among the neglected crises in 2021 — with just 512 online articles recorded,” says the report.

The United Nations tallies up that around 235 million people worldwide needed humanitarian aid last year, and that this number is predicted to rise to 274 million by the end of 2022. Globally, that’s one in 28 people. Hunger is rampant and spreading.

African family in a drought-affected area in Southern Africa.

For many people, every day is a struggle for survival, but the world’s attention has been primarily focused on COVID-19 — and more recently on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Zambian climate scientist, Mulako Kabisa told Jeremy Williams of the BBC: “Zambia has been experiencing the negative impact of climate variability and change for the last three decades. The biggest impact has been increased temperature and reduced rainfall, resulting in climate shocks that include droughts and floods… Being an agrarian economy, the sector provides employment for 22 percent of the country. These changes in rainfall and temperature have resulted in crop failure, livestock death and reduced contribution to the GDP,” she advised.

One can’t deny the connection between drought and climate change, Kabisa continued, with the recent incidents of drought in 2015, 2018 and the agricultural season of late 2021/early 2022 all proving attributable to climate variability and change. “Local evidence and simulated projects all indicate that rainfall will be more variable [going forward], that the production season will shift and drought incidents will … increase in frequency and intensity,” she said.

However, a recent partnership between the World Food Programme (WFP) and Good Nature Agro saw more than 30 000 Zambian smallholder farmers receiving post-drought recovery. The programme targets farmers in five drought-prone districts — i.e. Gwembe, Monze, Kalomo, Sioma and Shang’ombo — and aims to boost their access to and production of high-yielding legume crops.

In its latest situation report, the United Nations said that via a legume out-grower scheme under this WFP-GNA partnership, 722 smallholder farmers received nearly 30 mt of soya bean — thereby enabling them to grow an abundance of nutrient-dense crops. “With nutrition improvement high on the national Zambian agenda, the WFP has continued to support government efforts in ensuring social protection systems and programmes are nutrition-sensitive,” said the report.

Other farming inputs comprised 440 metric tonnes of cowpeas, groundnuts, orange maize and sorghum, and 1.6 million cassava cuttings, with the WFP linking agro-dealers with seed suppliers/producers and 30 002 smallholders (53 percent of whom were women). The WFP then procured the beans from the farmers, improving their earnings and livelihoods.

Also notable in the region is the work of African Risk Capacity (ARC), a specialised agency of the African Union (AU) tasked with assisting member states to improve their ability to plan, prepare for and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters; as well as to develop an outbreak and epidemic (O&E) insurance product that enables governments to protect at risk populations.

One recent example thereof is the US$7.1 million climate risk insurance pay-out to the WFP in Mali, which will assist over 204,000 vulnerable people in drought-affected regions of that country.

Farmer Manually Watering His Cabbage Field in Southern Mali.

The African Risk Capacity’s (ARC) Group Strategy 2020–2024 outlines, as just one of the challenges of their drought early-warning model, is how tricky it can be to correctly identify “crop timing”.

Making use of the Water Requirements Satisfaction Index (WRSI) to model the progression of agricultural and rangeland seasons, the ARC hopes to eliminate any discrepancies between model estimates and the actual drought situation by giving the highest priority to improving its software functionality.

A further ambition for the ARC Group, which is comprised of ARC Agency and ARC Ltd, its financial branch, is to provide up to US$1.5 billion of coverage for over 200 million people against drought, food insecurity and cyclones.

But the vital role of African voices in light of the outcomes of COP26 also needs highlighting, enthuses Mulenga. “It’s time to centre the voices of those most impacted by the climate crisis,” she says, highlighting the important role of journalism and media services in the mix. A lack of African voices certainly undermines the fairness of international discussions…[while] centering our voices and experiences in climate conversations, policies and solutions means honoring the unique insights and stories we have to tell from the catastrophe’s coalface.





African Risk Capacity Group

Specialized agency of the African Union providing comprehensive sovereign disaster risk solutions to build capacity, climate resilience & food security.