Women Take Leading Role in Tackling Climate Change Risks and Poverty

Esnart Siandavu displays rice seedlings and peas produced from her farm.

Climate change is not just a concern for environmentalists anymore. Increasingly, more than 2,000 small-scale famers, mostly women from Zambia’s Kanzungula District in the Southern Province are taking a leading role in tackling the risks of a changing global climate that is leading to more severe weather.

Esnart Siandavu (49) of Muyumbela Village is one of 2,000 farmers living in Kanzungula District where farmers are faced with grim prospects of poor yields and low income due to poor soil and other threats posed by climate change and environmental degradation. To help solve the problem, the farmers have organized themselves into self-help groups and have embraced conservation farming to increase their productivity.

“I have been using traditional methods of faming for many years, which have resulted in soil infertility and erosion. Crops performance is always poor and yields are often very low because of drought. My family runs out of food between February and March the following year until we are able to harvest new crops. My yields have now increased substantially since adopting conservation farming method,” Esnart happily admitted.


  • The general situation in Kazungula District for people living below the poverty line stands at 69.3 percent higher than the national average of 60.5 percent and provincial average of 67.9 percent.
  • Two (2) officers oriented on reading and collecting daily averages of air temperature, soil temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall and solar radiation.
  • Ninety (90) farmers have been trained by the Zambia Meteorological Department on matching weather and climate trends to have good crop harvest, increased livestock production and good honey yield and quality.
  • UNDP is using the group-based approach as an example of how local communities can make real advances to counter climate change and poverty. The women have embarked on a farmer to farmer extension to recruit and train more women farmers to in rice growing.

Kanzungula District, a border town located approximately 70 kilometers from the tourist capital, Livingstone, is scared by successive cycles of droughts and floods as climate change tightens its grips. The district suffers serious land degradation and soil erosion is pervasive in the last several rainy seasons. Drought frequency is estimated at 1 in 3 every year and other harsher weather conditions pose a major threat to farming and cattle rearing, causing an unprecedented loss of crops and livestock in the district in recent years.  

Consequently, communities resorted to survival mechanisms that included charcoal burning resulting in increased deforestation within the communities. Additionally, a good number of school children dropped out of school because their parents could not afford to pay school fees.

But in spite of the huge challenges facing this corner of Southern Zambia, where poverty, land degradation, deforestation and lost labor due to HIV/AIDS are exacerbating problems caused by changing weather patterns, local communities are determined to find solutions.

Supported by UNDP and the Zambian Government through a funding totaling US$3.9 million, local communities in Kazungula and seven other districts with similar weather-related problems across the country have organized themselves into self-help groups to diversify crops and livestock. This group-based approach also seeks to improve soil and water management using contour farming and conservation agriculture to help improve soil moisture retention and reduce erosion.

Interventions have included trainings in beekeeping – particularly suited to women with little access to land — improved small livestock production, such as goats and crops diversification, using improved practices to produce new crops including rice, sorghum, legumes, peas, sunflowers and sweet potatoes. Young people are also being introduced to horticulture, growing onions, tomatoes and watermelons.

Areas that were previously flooded and were thought to be useless are now used for rice production to supplement the traditional maize staple. The women have taken a significant part in the rice production with good harvests being recorded.

UNDP Country Director Viola Morgan said the more than 2,000 small-scale farmers are exploring new livelihood options which would make their source of income and food production more secure. “This has led to more income for their households and has also increased the women’s involvement in decision making at household level and in farming operations through farmer groups,” she said.

“We now have enough food throughout the year compared to previous farming seasons. Our nutrition status has improved and our poverty level has reduced as a result of crops diversification. Thanks to UNDP and its partners,” says Patricia Munwela, a conservation farmer.

Pamela Sikute, 35, a single mother of four children in the village of Zambwe believes women have the power to drive agriculture. Despite dropping from school early due to teenage pregnancy, Pamela was ambitious. She participated in every development programme that came to her area. As a result, she eventually got involved in conservation farming. “My life has changed for the better. There is enough food at home and I am now able to send my children to school,” she said.

Women constitute 50.7 percent of Zambia’s population of nearly 14 million people. In this conservative part of rural Zambia, women have few land tenure rights and little experience asserting themselves in a social context due to the gender imbalances in land access, ownership and control.

With new incomes from activities such as beekeeping, improved livestock production and conservation farming, coupled with new self-confidence from participation as active members of self-help groups, Esnart, Patricia and Pamela now have a different outlook on their role and the contribution they can make. Their aim is to improve market access and increase their bargaining power still further, creating a valuable knock-on effect for their households and communities.

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