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Building farmers’ resilience to climate in Southern Africa

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Smallholder farmers often rely on rain-fed agriculture. As a result, farming families oscillate between ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ throughout the year, with their food security, nutrition and income dependent upon the vagaries of the weather.

Development planners and farmers’ organisations such as the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) have recently suggested that drought and weather extremes are becoming the ‘new normal,’ which threatens the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers. This threat is particularly acute in Southern Africa where there is only one rainy season per year. However, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) could help smallholder farmers in the region to adapt to the increasingly frequent weather extremes resulting from climate change.

The adoption of CSA solutions by farmers is not currently reaching its potential. This is, in part, because weak extension services mean that less farmers have access to such solutions. But it is also due to limited engagement and investment from the private sector to make these solutions available on a sustained basis.

Scaling up solutions

To address these challenges, CTA has entered into partnerships with a consortium of partners from the public sector (government agricultural extension and meteorology departments), farmers’ groups (Zimbabwe Farmers' Union (ZFU), National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) and SACAU), knowledge generators (universities, weather data companies and researchers) and the private sector (insurance companies, telecom companies and seed companies). Through working with these groups, CTA is working to scale-up CSA solutions for smallholder farmers in Southern Africa, particularly in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The expected outcome is improved agricultural productivity and adaptation for 140,000 smallholder farmers over a two and a half-year period.

The project will achieve impact at scale through digital registration and profiling of farmers, ICT-enabled extension services and innovative partnership models to promote farmers’ uptake of four proven CSA solutions for farmers. Specifically, diversification into integrated crop-livestock farming systems; drought tolerant seeds; ICT-enabled weather information services; and weather-based index insurance (WBI). The project responds to the different, but interlinked challenges, which the majority of smallholder farmers in the focus countries face – drier weather conditions, the absence of safety net schemes for farmers during extreme weather events, and the reduction of traditional, face-to-face agricultural extension services.

Promising progress

In his opening speech at the project review and planning meeting in August 2018, the Zambian Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Michael Katambo MP, expressed his satisfaction that the project “complements the promotion and implementation of CSA by the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia, and will greatly assist farmers, especially vulnerable, rainfall-dependant, small-scale farmers, to make their farming more resilient to climate change.” Similar sentiments were expressed by Dr Matteo Sirtori, Team Leader of the EU Delegation to Zambia and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), who wished to “congratulate CTA for having managed to build, in each country, a consortium of partners, including government departments and farmer organisations, to work hand-in-hand with private sector and non-state actors.”

A project review, carried out at the end of the first year of operations - 2017/2018 farm season, shows some encouraging results. Approximately 74,422 farmers have been digitally profiled, with a strong representation (49%) of female farmers; farmers can receive customised weather and agricultural advisory information on their mobile phones and thus make informed decisions on farm operations. Over 700,000 agricultural advice or weather update SMS messages have been sent to farmers and two national telecoms companies (ECONET Wireless in Zimbabwe and Airtel in Malawi) are at different stages to facilitate engagement in agribusiness to support CSA. ECONET used their platform to disseminate information to farmers. Around 400 agro-dealers have also been trained in CSA, including improving drought tolerance. In addition, three major insurance companies (ECONET Insurance in Zimbabwe, Professional Insurance Company of Zambia and NICO Insurance in Malawi) have engaged in discussions with the project to scale up CSA and a proposal for a regulatory framework to support the adoption of WBI at the regional level has been drawn up.

Several factors have influenced the promising results achieved by the project. For instance, the bundling of the four different CSA solutions under one product, which is offered to farmers, has helped to increase adoption rates. The digital dissemination of agricultural information and advisory services to farmers at a faster and cheaper rate was also integral. Furthermore, strong partnerships between farmers’ organisations, government departments, knowledge generators and the private sector has been crucial to the project’s success.

Looking forward, the project has the potential to be scaled across the continent and provides lessons for the implementation of CSA solutions in other parts of Africa.

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