Risk to resilience: How Zambian smallholders are using local knowledge and climate data to adapt their cropping strategies

Zambia, like most of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), is facing a future in which climate change will consistently negatively affect smallholder crop production. The effects are already being felt in this southern African nation, where smallholder farming is the norm. Some national and international policy responses aim to integrate climate considerations into development programming, and so make it more sustainable. But the best intentions can remain on the drawing board: practical evidence of climate mainstreaming remains thin, especially for programmes assisting poor smallholder farmers in the LDCs. This case study considers one approach to making climate resilience an on-the-ground reality for smallholder farmers. As part of Irish Aid’s Climate and Development Learning Platform, climate farmer field schools were established in Zambia’s Northern Province in 2016. The schools provided experiential learning around locally relevant climate- resilient agriculture. Using farmer demonstration plots, smallholders were supported to systematically adjust business-as-usual cropping strategies according to calculations of climate risk. The approach — centred on gradual knowledge transfer to the poorest smallholders — is promising, but more seasonal cycles must be completed for a full set of results to be available. We present details of the methodology in this case study to enable this work to be taken forward and replicated by local government and other institutions committed to climate-resilient smallholder farming over the medium- to long-term.