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Climate change in Southern Africa: Information is power

Wednesday, 7 November 2018 Updated on Friday, 9 November 2018

Since becoming a farmer in 2001, Phineas Muyabi from Chibombo District in Zambia has struggled to produce enough food for his family to eat. Droughts have destroyed his crops and, as a result, his family has had to rely upon food aid. This year, however, Muyabi is benefiting from CTA’s regional flagship project for Southern Africa, ‘Scaling up Climate Smart Agricultural Solutions for Cereal and Livestock Farmers’.

Phineas Muyabi receives regular weather alerts and farming tips to his mobile, such as when to sow his crops; how to limit damage caused by Fall Armyworm; how to reduce post-harvest losses; and when to consider selling his crops. “Information is power,” says Muyabi, “and this is helping me to increase the productivity of my land.”

Some 75,000 small-scale farmers in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe were reached by the CTA project during its first year in 2017. By the time it comes to an end in early 2020, 140,000 farmers are expected to have adopted a range of climate-smart strategies to help them cope with drought and erratic weather. “We are well aware of the climate change problem and we know a lot about what’s causing it, but we cannot keep talking exclusively of the problems,” says Oluyede Ajayi, CTA’s senior programme coordinator for agricultural and rural development policy.

Climate change in Southern Africa: Information is power

Increasing awareness of climate-smart agriculture

To foster greater awareness about the importance of using drought-tolerant seeds in Zambia, during the first year of the project’s launch, the Zambia Open University organised seed fairs in the 12 districts where the project is working. The fairs provided a forum for commercial seed companies, agro-dealers, extension workers and over 3,500 farmers. “We were very happy to be invited,” says John Muzondiwa, technical sales representative with Pannar Seeds, the second largest seed supplier in the country. “Fairs like this are a great way for us to meet large numbers of farmers and talk to them about products like drought-tolerant varieties of maize.”

The fairs were also appreciated by agro-dealers, who play an important role in providing inputs to local farmers. “The seed fair here was a real education for us and I’m now in a much better position to advise farmers about what sort of seeds and inputs to buy, according to their needs and soil type,” says agro-dealer Changwe Nkonda, whose company is based in Chibombo District.

Building on success in Zimbabwe

Other than providing farmers with weather updates and agricultural advice, the CTA project promotes index-based weather insurance to farmers to help mitigate against the impacts of climate change – i.e. if crops fail because of too little rain or too much, farmers with insurance policies will receive compensation. Encouraging the uptake of insurance among farmers has been at the heart of activities in Zimbabwe, where the project has benefited from existing services already provided since 2013 by the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) and Econet Wireless – the country’s largest telecommunications service. These organisations have created a weather index insurance product known as the EcoFarmer, which enables farmers to insure their crops against the risk of excessive rainfall and excessive dry days for as little as $2.50 (€2.19) per year.

Through CTA’s support, aWhere – a data management company that captures climate information via satellites – has partnered with ZFU and Econet Wireless in order to provide more targeted and reliable weather information to subscribers. The product is now known as the ZFU eco-farmer combo, for which farmers pay US$1 (€0.88) a month, and provides all the services of the previous package in addition to free information on drought-tolerant maize seeds and extension advice, and real time weather information updates. By the end of July 2018, over 10,725 farmers had signed up for the eco-farmer combo.

“I am finding the texts very useful,” says Winnieildah Hamamiti, a farmer from Mashonaland West. “Guidance on when the rain is coming, and when to sow seeds and apply fertilisers has helped me to improve my yields.”

Climate change in Southern Africa: Information is power

Taking stock

Since the project’s implementation, just under 50,000 farmers have received weather and advisory services by text, and some 10,000 farmers have received information about drought-tolerant seeds. Over 400 agro-dealers have also been trained in climate-smart agricultural practices, and increasing numbers of farmers are buying weather-index insurance.

The success of the project owes much to the collaboration between the public and private sectors. Ajayi points out that all too often, development projects fizzle out when the donor support ceases. “We want to change this narrative,” he says. “One of the best ways of doing that is to establish a strong partnership based on a solid investment case that addresses the interests of partners who were there before the project and will be there afterwards. If companies dealing in agricultural inputs and insurance have a financial interest in the project, there is a much greater chance that its influence will continue beyond its lifetime.”        

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