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Bundled mobile innovations mitigate climate shocks

Dossier

In Zimbabwe, farmers are receiving climate updates and weather-based index insurance to their mobile phones

© CTA

Zimbabwe

By the end of December 2019, 30,000 Zimbabwean farmers are expected to have benefited from at least one intervention of a project that is scaling up climate-smart solutions.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe are wising up to climate change as the impacts – including recent successive droughts – become harder to ignore. To mitigate against production threats caused by changing weather patterns, over 17,000 smallholders in Mashonaland West, Midlands and Masvingo provinces have adopted weather-based index insurance. This is just one of the climate-smart services being promoted as part of a CTA-funded project, Scaling-up Climate-smart Agricultural Solutions for Cereal and Livestock Farmers. Also being promoted is the adoption of drought-tolerant maize seed and farming systems that combine crops and livestock to diversify and strengthen livelihood options. Such practices are improving soil quality, thereby helping farmers to cope with climate shocks.

To receive the index insurance, farmers sign up to a bundle of ICT-enabled services that also includes climate information, farming tipsand funeral insurance, and is delivered through a mobile platform called the EcoFarmer Combo. The platform – set-up by the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), a representation body of about 1 million farmers, and Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the country’s largest telecommunications services company – is being supported by the CTA project to scale-out theEcoFarmer Comboservices to its reach ZFU’s entire membership. In 100 districts where the CTA project is working, 300 extension officers have also received training to interpret the weather information provided though the platform, and support farmers to implement farm management responses.

Thembeni Ndlovu, a groundnut, maize and sorghum farmer from Midlands province in central Zimbabwe was increasingly worried about erratic weather before signing up to the EcoFarmer Combo platform in 2018. Through the service, she has been able to insure her crops against the risk of excessive rainfall and drought for US$1 (€0.89) per month. The monthly subscription also provides Ndlovu with ZFU membership, which means she can then receive training in best farming practices. “The EcoFarmer Combo has helped me follow the weather changes and know when to plant,” says Ndlovu, who farms 1.5 ha of land. Following adoption of the bundled solution – and training – she has also learnt to diversify her cropping to increase yields. As a result, she harvested 10 50-kg bags of maize and two 50-kg bags of sorghum in the 2018/19 season compared to just six 50-kg bags of maize in the 2016/2017 season.

Despite Ndlovu’s increased production in 2018/19, her yields suffered as a result of drought. “When we were trained on using the EcoFarmer service, we were told that farmers can be paid when they incur serious crop losses and we hope this will be done this year,” she adds. Ndlovu also keeps livestock which are not covered under the insurance and after losing two heads of cattle believes that there is a case for animal insurance as well.

Programme lead and chief economist at ZFU, Prince Kuipa, says the project has helped farmers become more knowledgeable about climate change, the associated impacts, and how to cope with the changes that affect production.“Farmers have adopted drought tolerant seeds because they are better informed and make the right decision on which seeds will work best for them, whilst in the past, they would buy long maturing seeds and they lost out in a drought season,” he explains. “One innovation of this CTA project has been the holding of seed fairs in districts, which has led to more farmers adopting drought tolerant seeds,” Kuipa continues.

Due to the fact that large numbers of farmers have subscribed to the EcoFarmer services, Kuipa believes that the benefits of the project will continue to be rolled out after the funded phase concludes at the end of 2019. “Farmers have been willing to pay for a service because they have realised the benefit in terms of the information offered, and we are seeing more farmers joining up,” he says. Development projects often falter once donor support ceases. “We want to change this narrative,” says Oluyede Ajayi, CTA’s senior programme coordinator for agriculture and climate change. “One of the best ways of doing that is to establish a solid investment case for partners who were there before the project and will be there afterwards,” he explains.

The project is also working in Malawi, where over 18,000 farmers have been digitally profiled to receive weather information to their phones, and in Zambia, where, thanks to a government initiative, more than 1 million farmers have subscribed to the weather-based insurance. “What we set out to achieve through the project [in Zambia] is being done, and with the government now backing our recommended crop insurance, the potential for scaling is immense,” says Mariam Kadzamira, climate change officer at CTA.