Ukama Ustawi holds dialogue to set policy priorities for climate-resilient agriculture in Zambia

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Government ministries, researchers, NGOs, businesses, and others come together to debate policy priorities for Zambia to strengthen agriculture in the face of climate change.

By Sean Mattson and Idil Ires

Lusaka, ZAMBIA – Zambia’s leaders are clear about where they see their country a decade from now.

“This country aspires to be a prosperous, middle-income country by 2030,” said Joy Sinyangwe, a chief specialist with Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture. “But what does that mean to the agriculture sector?”

Nothing short of radical transformation, including a significant effort toward building the policies needed for climate resilience.

The majority of this landlocked Eastern African nation of about 18 million people relies heavily on a single crop—maize—which makes them particularly vulnerable to climate impact. Maize cultivation employs 90% of smallholder farmers and more than half of the Zambian population classified as extremely poor.

Joy Sinyangwe, Chief Agriculture Specialist-Land Husbandry, Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture. Credit: Agricomm Media.

Maize cultivation in Zambia has been severely affected by weather events associated with climate change, such as delayed rains and extreme droughts. Only in one year, from 2021 to 2022, maize production fell 25%, intensifying food and income insecurities.

There is a need to rethink policy priorities to foster climate adaptation in maize farming and achieve climate-resilient agriculture at the heart of a successful broader economic transformation.

Acknowledging the urgency, Ukama Ustawi: Diversification for Resilient Agrifood Systems in East and Southern Africa prioritized Zambia to launch stakeholder dialogues. Ukama Ustawi (UU, which means “well-being” in Swahili) is one of 32 initiatives in CGIAR’s new research portfolio. UU aims to drive climate-resilient agricultural transformations by providing governments with policy support and finance in 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In Zambia, it sought to identify gaps, synergies, and tradeoffs in this context through a multistakeholder exchange to provide informed support.

A climate for policies

The dialogue in Zambia’s capital brought together 95 stakeholders to discuss fine-tuning the Zambian policy environment, enable agribusiness and climate-proof the agricultural sector. The Minister of Agriculture, honorable Reuben Mtolo, inaugurated the dialogue and welcomed UU to Zambia.

Speakers emphasized diverse gaps in addressing climate urgency in agriculture. The lack of climate information and agro-advisories is one. Technologies such as rainfall forecasts are needed to de-risk farming. Also, there is a dearth of agricultural extension. Climate change brings many uncertainties that require the government to constantly train its overstretched agricultural extension agents, specialists that assist farmers with production on their farms. The goal is to have one agent for every 400 farmers, but right now there is only one per every 2,000, Sinyangwe estimates. Hiring more is a priority.

Another way Zambia is reaching more farmers is to train farmers to train others, which is already showing signs of success. But increased funding is critical.

Conservation agriculture and the shift to non-traditional crops such as rice have been successes. Zambia has practiced and had government support for conservation agriculture for more than 20 years. Farmers who practice conservation agriculture have had stronger resilience to climate disruptions, Sinyangwe said.

“Most of the farming community continues to grow maize, and as such the adoption of conservation agriculture becomes paramount,” Sinyangwe said. Combining this practice with stress-tolerant seed varieties and crop diversification, especially fast-growing crops tolerant to new temperature and rainfall conditions, is a priority, along with increased mechanization. “Most of our farmers are women and poor and lack the capacity to invest in some of the equipment needed to upscale production and productivity.”

Inga Jacobs-Mata, the Ukama Ustawi lead and the representative for International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Southern Africa, at the UU policy dialogue in Zambia. Credit: Agricomm Media.

Further policy tweaks experts detected included support and strategies for scaling up climate-smart agriculture. This includes funding and support for inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), climate-information services, markets for sustained and increased crop productivity and income, livelihood resilience, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Sinyangwe pointed out that Zambia is already making progress in some areas. The country is working on a climate-smart agriculture investment plan, a national policy on climate change, and its second national agriculture policy, which will focus on addressing challenges in climate change adaptation and mitigation and scaling up conservation agriculture.

“The exciting thing about working in Zambia is that it has always had a relatively strong, well-functioning policy landscape,” said Inga Jacobs-Mata, the UU lead and the representative for International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Southern Africa. “The challenge, like in many countries, is implementation, [but] we know there are efforts underway. Our role is to support the government with evidence, partnership, engagement, and dialogue.”

Farmers informing policy

Smallholder farmers participate in drawing up policy recommendations for Zambia. One of UU’s core partners, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)—an African NGO focusing on policy advocacy—spearheads much of the inclusion work. In UU, FANRPAN partners with different organizations in analyzing policies and setting policy priorities in UU countries.

Sithembile Mwamakamba, Director of Research Policy, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, during CGIAR Initiative meetings in Zambia. Credit: Agricomm Media.

“We facilitate platforms, right across the continent, where we bring together state and non-state actors to dialogue on agriculture, food issues, climate change, and to make sure that together, we come up with solutions that can lead our continent to sustainable development,” said Sithembile Mwamakamba, FANRPAN’s Director of Research Policy and Analysis.

The Zambia dialogue enabled national stakeholders and researchers to discuss policy priorities and ensure that UU is informed by the discussions.

Indeed, based on the policy gaps and priorities discussed in the dialogue, UU will provide the Zambian government with research-based policy support and pursue continued engagement. Policy dialogue is a standard approach under UU that will be replicated across East and Southern Africa and guide climate-resilient agricultural transformations on a regional scale.



Featured image: Mandrena Kunda from Lukomba area working in farm using drip irrigation to irrigate crops. Photo credit: Adam Öjdahl.

Mwamakamba and FANRPAN also collaborates with CGIAR’s Climate Resilience initiative, ClimBeR, which aims to support 30 million farmers as they adapt to climate change by 2030. Her organization is supporting the Initiative’s work to develop adaptation instruments to inform policy and investments to enable a climate-resilient, nutrition-secure future. The work is led by Evan Girvetz, who is a scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT where he works on finance and investments as part of the Alliance’s Climate Action research area.



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