Cultivating Resilience in East and Southern Africa Through Climate-Smart Seeds

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    As the impacts of climate change continue to cause concern across the world, more than US$45 billion in East and Southern African agricultural productions find themselves at risk due to erratic rainfall patterns, extended droughts, and unpredictable temperatures. All of this raises grave concerns for food security and the economic livelihoods in the region that rely on agricultural means for subsistance. It is now, more than ever before, that sustainable solutions need to be considered – and one such climate-smart agriculture tool disrupting the region comes in the form of climate-smart seeds and their yet-untapped potential to promote resilience.  

    Promoting Resilience 

    Climate-smart seeds, also known as stress-tolerant or climate-resilient seeds, are bred to withstand harsh environmental conditions (mostly drought and heat stress) that come as a result of climate-change. Unlike regular seeds, these seeds can also withstand pests, and diseases. “By utilizing climate-smart seeds – such as was the case when farmers in East and Southern Africa signed up on the Bill Gates Foundation that brought drought resilient seeds to Malawi, farmers can better adapt to the vagaries of climate,” says Dr Christian Thierfelder, Work Package 1 Lead on the CGIAR initiative Ukama Ustawi which focus on Diversify and Sustainably Intensify Maize-Based Farming Systems. Farmers on this programme can increase  resilience to climate change and reduce yield losses.  

    Drought Tolerance 

    The East and Southern Africa region has its own unique challenges that have emerged as a direct result of climate change. Take for example how Zambia, in the earlier parts of 2023, faced both floods and droughts in the same period. These natural phenomena are not unique to the region and calls for seeds that can thrive even under extreme conditions. Drought tolerant crop varieties are designed to thrive  under water scarcity. Careful genetic selection has enabled scientists to make waves in drought-resistant staple crops like maize, sorghum, and millet. 

    Heat and Pest Resilience  

    Unlike your typical seeds, drought-tolerant seeds have deep root systems, better water-use efficiency, and early maturation. These seeds can help farmers to be better prepared for soaring temperatures, particularly in hotter climates as is often the case in the region. Furthermore, these seeds exhibit resistance to prevalent pests and diseases, reducing the need for chemical pesticides and aiding both the environment and farmers’ health and wellness.  

    By cultivating drought-tolerant, heat-resistant, and pest-resilient varieties, farmers can adapt their farming practices to prevailing climatic conditions. Climate-smart seeds not only enhance farmers’ resilience but also contribute to sustainable agriculture by reducing chemical inputs and promoting biodiversity. To fully capitalize on the potential of climate-smart seeds, it is crucial to support research, promote seed systems, and empower farmers with the knowledge and resources necessary for their widespread adoption. Together, we can foster a climate-resilient agriculture sector that ensures food sovereignty for East and Southern Africa in the face of a changing climate. 

    For practical implementation lessons, watch the work that AICCRA-Zambia is supporting in the Central Province of Zambia through this Munda Make Over episode on Value Addition, Climate smart seed, Financial Literacy and Fertilizer. In addition to learning how climate smart seeds help farmers adapt to climate change, you will also learn how the right fertilizer can help you improve your crops. 


    1. Dr Christian Thierfelder, Diversification in East and Southern Africa (Ukama Ustawi) Work Package 1 Lead: Diversify and Sustainably Intensify Maize-Based Farming Systems  
    2. Phindiwe Nkosi, Communications and Knowledge Management Expert, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) & AICCRA-Zambia 

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