Climate Resilient Agriculture in Northern Province, Zambia: Integrating Considerations of Climate into Cropping Strategies of Smallholder Farmers

Agriculture remains the productive base for rural communities in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Lower-Middle Income Countries (LMIC) in Sub-Saharan Africa. Zambia’s population remains predominantly rural and agriculture based, and thus has acute exposure and sensitivity to climate variability and change. High inter-annual rainfall variability, especially in relation to onset and cessation, are weighing on the development of smallholder farmers, and contributing to vulnerability and food insecurity. The Irish Aid Climate Change and Development Learning Platform seeks to improve resilience through climate risk management in development programming. In the case reported here this was attempted through institutional and farmer learning on climate risk management mainstreaming. This case study for the Zambian Mission facilitated experiential learning on climate risks faced by farmers and the support institutions in current development activities in Northern Province. The investigation uses existing farmer demonstration plots operated by Livelihood Enhancement Groups (LEGs), together with engagement from partners (Self-Help Africa and CGIAR consortium), to adjust business-as-usual cropping strategies for climate risk. This final report details the stages of the exercise carried out between February 2016 and July 2017 – scoping, participatory risk assessment, farmer dialogue, crop planting, and harvest evaluation – and presents the findings of the action research. The first sections of the document set out the relevant literature and the development of a conceptual framework for climate risk management of smallholder farming. The second section outlines the participatory climate risk assessment exercise for participants in four LEGs. This established business-as-usual cropping strategies and practices of LEG participants, and calculated the climate risks to crops through a simple formula (risk = magnitude of crop losses x probability of occurrence). Section three sets out and applies a methodology to integrate findings from the risk assessment with seasonal forecast information, which are used to improve resilience by systematically adjusting business-as-usual cropping strategies. The performance of business-as-usual and risk adjusted crop strategies are then compared by planting the two strategies. Using monetary valuations of yields, the final sections document the relative performance of risk adjusted cropping strategies, in addition to the experiential learning of LEG farmers. In the single season (2016-2017), the performance of risk adjusted cropping strategies are approximately even in monetary terms with the business-as-usual scenario. Though it is important to consider the approach of risk adjustment is designed to be an iterative process, minimizing climate risk to crops over multiple seasons with variable rainfall and temperature (perhaps between three and five seasons). Additionally, as a case study commissioned by the Irish Aid Climate Change and Development Learning Platform, the establishment of climate resilient cropping strategies with the pre-existing LEG system is primarily a learning process. Engagement and learning of LEG farmers and support institutions was of paramount importance, with the transference of the knowledge between support institutions and LEG farmers occurring over time.