Zambia: Accurate weather information helps farmers plan more effectively (IPS)

| October 15, 2018

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In the 2017-18 farming season, Fainess Muzyamba decided to abandon her traditional maize crop for sweet potatoes. The 56-year-old lives in the Pemba district of southern Zambia.

She explains: “Through the monthly weather briefings that we get, I decided to plant sweet potatoes instead of maize. Through this information and technical advice from extension officers, I was able to project that seasonal rainfall would be problematic, and decided to plant sweet potatoes. These don’t need a lot of water to do well.”

Her decision paid off. She harvested sixty 50-kilogram bags of sweet potatoes, which she exchanged  for 40 bags of maize, each also weighing 50 kilograms.

She will re-sell the maize, but keep at least 20 bags to feed her 11-member family. She recently began to grow beans for income and nutrition, and will sell some to add to her maize income.

Mrs. Muzyamba receives a monthly package of weather information as part of a rural resilience project run by the World Food Programme. The project helps farmers manage risk by sharing information about rainfall and distributing loans of inputs and cash. The program also addresses post-harvest management and marketing.

Lola Castro is the regional director of the World Food Programme, or WFP, for southern Africa. She says erratic weather patterns are just another in a series of problems affecting small-scale farmers across southern Africa—including fragile soil, lack of access to inputs, and lack of information about marketing and good farming practices. The project also encourages farmers to diversify their crops to better cope with changes in rainfall. She hopes it will be scaled up to help more farmers adapt to climate change.

In Zambia, WFP installed weather stations and gauges, some of which are operated by trained farmers. Farmers take readings from the gauges and share information with the meteorological office, extension officers, and fellow farmers so that they can make better decisions.

Farmers gather in groups to discuss issues such as the recommended soil moisture content for planting. They compare locally-obtained information with broader forecasts from national and regional sources. With all this information, they have a better idea of what to expect, and thus can make better decisions about what and when to plant.

Mrs. Muzyamba believes she has made a remarkable turnaround in a season that has mostly been a disaster for farmers. She says, “Paying for my children’s school fees will not be a problem this year. I was particularly worried [about paying the fees for my] oldest son who is in grade twelve.”


This story is adapted from an article titled “How accurate information about the weather is yielding resilience for Zambia’s smallholders,” originally published by InterPress Service. To read the article, go to:

Photo: Rainess Muzyamba with clay flower pots that she also makes. Credit: Friday Phiri / IPS