“Tomorrow brings many things,” an old Zambian proverb tells us.  But because of climate change, many Zambian communities need help today to prepare for a tomorrow where shifting temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events are the new normal. 

The Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, a funding window of the Climate Investment Funds, recently travelled to Zambia to meet the change-makers taking charge of climate adaptation efforts in their communities and to visit some adaptation projects.

The everyday can sometimes remind you of the existential.  So it was in the Kazungula district of Zambia when, because of increased flooding which is now becoming more frequent, the minibus taking us to Mungoni Livelihood project sputtered and stalled in the mud.  It was only a minor setback – we soon dug the bus out and continued on our way - but it crystallized how climate change has short-term impacts as well as long-term implications.

It also highlighted the importance of adaptability to new circumstances.  And that’s exactly what the PPCR is aiming to do in conjunction with the Zambian government and the World Bank and African Development Bank.  These projects are needed because climate change is affecting every aspect of life in Zambia, as Auxillia B. Ponga, the Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of National Development and Planning, describes: 

“In some parts of the country we have flooding.  That means people can’t grow their food.  It also goes to impacts on health because if there is flooding, the sanitation aspect is affected.  People will have challenges from moving from one place to the other.  And they can’t grow their usual crops during the rainy season”

Traditionally, communities in this area have reared cattle but because of prolonged droughts they have lost these animals.  But chickens need less water than cattle and are easier to feed.  So the PPCR is funding an agriculture-oriented program which does a number of things across 46 projects.

Firstly, it provides the chickens.  Chickens require less pasture and local-made feed is easier to come by than for other animals.  Secondly, a Livestock Officer provides regular training so the communities are well-equipped and have the knowledge and skills to manage the chickens.  Finally, the local authority runs workshops in business management and project management so people develop the skills they need to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.  Local changemaker Mavis Sibes explains the community’s plans:

“We have reared these chickens and at some point, they will start laying eggs.  We will get these eggs and incubate them in (nearby city) Livingstone. When we make our first sales, with the money we are going to realize, we are going to open an account.  (For the second batch) we will buy our own solar incubators.  When we sell for the third time, we are going to put 50% in the account and share the other 50% so we can help our children and take them to school – because we have a lot of vulnerable people who don’t go to school in our community.”

We then drove to another PPCR project, which is providing villagers with goats.  Like chickens, goats are low-maintenance and can thrive even in drought conditions.  This is certainly needed in Kazungula district.  Local villager Arori Simasi told us how climate change was hurting them: “In the past years, we were suffering because there was no rain.  So there was lots of drought and people didn’t have anything.”

With training from the same Livestock Officer, the community rotate shifts to feed the goats, take them to graze and are already looking to expand the enterprise – there was much talk of selling goats at market once household needs were met and trading them for other types of livestock when the time was right. 

They also spoke of how the money their animals generated was helping pay for their children to go to school so they can escape poverty and expand their opportunities. 

The PPCR is supporting this too.  Nearby, a school located in Sesheke district has a CIF PPCR-funded solar borehole, which dispenses water for pupils and teachers as well as being useful for watering the school-owned and tended vegetable patch.  Nathan Akatama, the acting Head Teacher, explains the ripple effects this water supply is having:

“Having the water here has really helped the children – they have water available for sanitation and for growing food.  The children love it and we’ve shown them how to turn it on and – importantly – how to turn it off!  They use it to water the vegetables too and grow eggplant, okra and tomatoes. We’ve noticed a real difference in enrollment and attendance.  Since it was installed, we’ve gone from 126 pupils to 255.  This is something that has changed everybody’s lives around here.”

While clearing canals and digging ditches may not immediately seem as obviously impactful as early years schooling, for communities living near the Barotse sub-basin of the Zambezi River, it is incredibly important.That’s because an unclogged canal helps drain out fields during and after intense rains, regulating the amount of water which would be optimal for growing crops.   Pomolo Akowondo, who leads the small team responsible for manually clearing the canals, is clear about the benefits for agriculture:

“It helps farmers in many ways.  One, it makes the land dry so they can easily cultivate their fields.  Second, when canals are cleared it becomes easy for the farmers to transport their produce from the place of production to the markets. I have personally seen the benefits of this exercise because before people used to have very low yields.  After the clearing of the canals was done, people have actually increased their yields.  So it has helped them a lot.”

“It has helped women a lot in the sense that in our communities we may have more women than men so these are the people responsible for taking care of children, taking them to school and so forth.  It has helped women to have enough food to feed their families.” 

But not all canals can be dug and cleared by hand.  Some of them are so large that heavy machinery is used.   Just a few miles away, we spoke to Caesar Zakala, a water engineer for the Senanga district, who told us how a PPCR-funded large-scale canal clearing is driving heavyweight progress:

“The immediate impact is we have areas which were flooded throughout the rainy season that are now dry.  Then, navigation. Because the canals have increased in size (width and depth) people can easily navigate.  Then, of course, there’s the fishing aspect – we’re expecting a lot of fish this year because of this canal.”

Agriculture, education, infrastructure – climate change is impacting all of these.  This requires action and there is no time to waste.  In Zambia, we have a shining example of the benefits of communities taking action on adaptation and climate resilience.