Strengthening Capacities and Accelerating Response to Climate Change in Zambia

Roida Zulu, 40, and her family live in Mambwe District in Zambia’s Eastern Province where the lack of rainfall has made it difficult for them to grow maize, their staple crop. Their indigenous knowledge of previously predicting the weather has resulted in low yields and sometimes even no harvest at all.

“Many years ago, we predicted the weather and knew when to plant,” Roida recalled. “But these days, the weather is unpredictable. Now the dry season can bring continuous rain while the hot season is too wet.”

These hardships could have been avoided, but climate change has robbed the farmers of their ability to predict the weather, a skill passed down through generations and sharpened by years of experience.

With much of Zambia’s rural population dependent on rain-fed agriculture, the negative impacts of climate extremes are being felt by all. Lower yields are increasing prices for staple food, like maize, and reducing revenues from key crops such as sorghum, millet, groundnuts, sunflower and soya beans.

Zambia has experienced some of its worst droughts and floods in the last two decades which has affected the quality of life for vulnerable groups such as smallholder farmers. Significant rainfall deficits at critical stages of crop growth have frequently led to a serious shortfall in crop production. This has also contributed to a reduction in the generation of hydro-power which has invariably increased the production and use of charcoal, a core livelihood income and source of energy, not just in rural areas but also in urban areas.

It has been estimated that in the past 30 years droughts and floods have cost Zambia more than $13.8 billion equivalent to 4.0% of the annual GDP growth. Environmentalists here say if no action is taken, and in the absence of adaptation measures, rainfall variability could keep an additional 300,000 more Zambians in poverty.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-supported study on the impacts of climate change in Zambia indicates that climate variability could cost the country USD$4.3 billion in lost GDP over the next decade reducing annual growth by 0.9%.

To help address the issue, the UNDP-supported Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Project is working with the Government through the Meteorological Department and the Ministry of Agriculture to promote climate smart agricultural practices – to support rural Zambian farming families to improve livelihoods through building their resilience to climate change.

With funding from the Global Environment Facility for Least Developed Countries Fund (GEF-LDCF), the project provides regular weather forecasts and agriculture advisories for farming communities, aiming to minimise the impact of adverse weather on crops and boost agricultural production. Currently, the project is piloting community level early warning systems for extreme weather events in the three worst affected provinces in Zambia, namely Southern, Western and Eastern. 

“The use of weather and climate information assisted me to plant in good time and I have increased the maize production from less than a tonne per hectare to five tonnes per hectare. I will keep one tonne for consumption and sell four tonnes to help pay my children’s school fees”   Roida Zulu – Smallholder farmer

For smallholder farmers like Roida, adapting to climate change can help them avoid future losses, and enable them to invest more in farming or other livelihoods to support their families with basic social services such as education and health. 

“The government’s partnership with UNDP to reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change impacts is helping the country follow a climate-resilient development path, consistent with our poverty reduction and sustainable development objectives” Hon. Brian Mushimba -  Minister of Transport & Communications

Aside from supporting agro-meteorological services, UNDP is collaborating with the Government on many fronts including support to Zambia’s implementation of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, which is key in unlocking the country’s potential to pursue a climate resilient and low-carbon emission growth. The UNDP partnership is designed to ensure that inclusive and green growth across the country will improve water, energy and food security, and promote the sustainable use of natural resources. UNDP has also provided support in the development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and in promoting natural regeneration of indigenous forests. 

UNDP is dedicated to working with the Government and people of Zambia to support innovative ideas that reduce carbon emissions and better prepare communities for the impact of climate change. “Knowing how much rain will fall and when the rainy season will start and end, is one of the most valuable tools smallholder farmers need to prepare for climate uncertainties and improve yields in a good season.”

Mandisa Mashologu - UNDP Zambia, Country Director

Following an awareness-raising event with traditional leaders in Serenje District on the impacts of climate change, Chief Chitambo happily said “I am setting aside 12,000 hectares for community forest management and support for the regeneration of indigenous forest in my area. I will also encourage people to start raising trees and plant them in degraded forests.”

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