Raising the red flag on climate change - How weather warnings are preventing crop crises in Zambia

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One of the major effects of climate change is unpredictable weather patterns. Over the past years Zambia has been frequently hit by drought and floods and this has posed serious challenges on agriculture, which is a major source of livelihood for most people.

In 2001/02 a severe drought showed how devastating the impact of climate change can be on national and household food security. Nearly half the population of Zambia was affected, largely because preventative measures could not be put in place early enough, and a lack of reliable information meant that relief and recovery responses were delayed and less effective than they could have been. With climate change likely to increase the frequency and severity of droughts and floods in Zambia, more effective 'Early Warning Systems' are becoming ever more important.

Surveys provide a solution

The Department for International Development (DFID) has been supporting the government of Zambia through the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to implement Crop and Livestock Monitoring Surveys (CLMS) to address this issue. The aim of the project is monitoring the progression of the agricultural season and raising red flags when danger is sensed. Some of the activities which are central to the project's delivery include:

- collecting data and variables on crop production

- mapping differences between expected maize yield and normal yield

- conducting qualitative questionnaires with small hold farmers.

As Mr Chunga, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, says:

"To make Early Warning Systems effective basic data needs to be regularly collected and the Crop and Livestock Monitoring Project does just this. Introduction of the project has made the average Zambian farmer more aware of the changing environment and they can now seek technical advice before planning their agricultural year."

The programme was initially set up in 41 districts in Zambia, but with the success of the initial surveys, the government of Zambia requested additional funding to scale up the project across all 72 districts. DFID encouraged the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MACO) to take ownership of the project if it was to be expanded, as this would ensure sustainability.

Making it sustainable

By assuming ownership, the MACO over time took on responsibility for meeting all the operational costs of the CLMS in all districts nationwide. DFID provided funding of =A3308,000 over three years (2006-2009) which focused mainly on activities that would improve delivery, such as technical support, capacity building, and equipment. The project's activities are now included in the budget of each district and in job descriptions for all staff involved.

Future challenges

A few challenges persist for the initiative:

- a lack of staffing

- late return and poor dissemination of data.

These problems will need to be addressed in the future in order to maintain the capacity to produce high quality surveys, as well as respond to emergencies with the full picture of information. However, there is no doubt that through working with the MCAO this is no longer seen as short-term project, but a sustainable programme that is providing an essential solution to the rising threats of climate change.

More about our work in Zambia

DFID is working with the government of Zambia and other donors to reduce chronic food insecurity and vulnerability through expanding social protection programmes. This is a way of protecting poor people through extremely difficult periods. We are using initiatives such as regular social cash transfers to 12,000 households to help Zambian people survive the food shortages.