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Reaping the economic rewards of conservation

Climate-smart solutions

In eastern Zambia, smallholder Nelly Zimba picks grass to use for mulching to improve her soil fertility

© Doreen Chilumbu

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Climate-smart incentives

To overcome the issues of drought and extreme poverty in Zambia, smallholders are being rewarded for taking up climate-smart, conservation practices to increase productivity and protect their environment.

Smallholders in Zambia are receiving training in climate-smart production practices and technologies to achieve food security and access to guaranteed markets, while conserving natural resources. Through a Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) model for rural development, 179,000 farmers across eastern Zambia – 52% of whom are women – have benefited from access to affordable farming inputs and formal training in low-tillage farming, mulching and composting.

COMACO’s premise is that with the right training and incentives, smallholders will favour sustainable agriculture practices over more destructive methods, such as monoculture and deforestation, and move away from elephant and rhino poaching. The scheme offers above-market prices for goods that are produced in compliance with conservation agriculture practices, and access to inputs when using these methods.

In eastern Zambia, smallholder Nelly Zimba picks grass to use for mulching to improve her soil fertility

In eastern Zambia, smallholder Nelly Zimba picks grass to use for mulching to improve her soil fertility

© Doreen Chilumbu

Before the programme was introduced in 2003, farmers in the area were earning around €17 per harvest; this has since risen by at least €170. “Most families in the Luangwa Valley experience 3-5 months of chronic food insecurity. With few options available to support their families, residents may turn to logging, illegal hunting, and slash-and-burn agriculture. But, since these incentives were introduced to the area, these trends have reduced and farmers involved in the programme have enough food,” says chief Nsefu, a traditional leader in the area.

The promoted practices also include beekeeping, gardening in the dry season and poultry husbandry. Diversified production has enhanced productivity for smallholders and reduced the need for inorganic fertilisers, thereby decreasing nitrous oxide emissions. “Teaching how to compost may not be appreciated [by farmers] the first time but, as time has gone by, we have come to value the training. Our soils are looking healthier and even the crop yield has improved. We have enough food in our homes and income in our pockets,” says Zitandala Sakala, a smallholder farmer in Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia.

The uptake of beekeeping has also dissuaded farmers from cutting down their trees. “It has been hard work, but now, hundreds of farmers are realising the value of keeping and protecting trees. I have felt such pride in the producers for the way they have changed their practices and it makes me so happy to see them make a better living from conservation,” says Julius Kamanga, a beekeeper from Mfuwe.

Mulching has also become an integral practice among farmers in the area as a result of the project training. Smallholder Nelly Zimba feels the technique is a necessary ingredient to successful farming and provides the key to long-term maintenance of strong, biologically active soils. “If you see my field today, it is full of maize stalks; I have reserved this for mulching at an opportune time,” she says. “We raise over 35 different types of fruits and vegetables with about 2 ha under production. We have 4 ha suitable for vegetable production, so we rotate the other 2 with cover crops.”

Zambia faces frequent flooding and drought, and Luangwa Valley is one of the most affected areas in the country. To help mitigate the impacts of drought, the programme has facilitated the planting of over 10 million cassava cuttings to serve as a drought-resistant food reserve. Cassava crops can also help increase water storage in the soil profile and reduce the risk of rainfall run-off. “[The farmers] have learned the importance of diversification and now grow cassava. Before COMACO, a lot of farmers just grew maize and the yields have always been depressing,” says Nsefu.

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