Ms Banda discusses the Charis Vegetable Garden, a project for small scale farmers under the KATC Pivot Irrigation Program. Photo: Johannes Kaup.

Climate modelling shows alarming forecasts for Southern Africa. It is one of the areas in the world most affected by climate change, yet identifying direct impact is not an easy task.

Zambian farmers have always faced extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts and floods. To farm in a semi-arid climate implies a lot of risks: When will the rains start? When will they end? Will there be long dry spells? These vary from year to year and highly impact yield. Farming in Zambia depends on knowledge, experience and a bit of gambling.

Most Zambian farmers agree that weather patterns are changing. Extreme weather has become more frequent and pronounced. This increases the role of luck and most farmers employ strategies to minimize risk. This year, the start of the rains has been delayed for one month now. After the first strong rains, farmers planted only part of their seed supply with the remainder to be sown later when more rains come. Will these strategies continue to work in the future?

The transformation of the ecosystem is also alarming. The region still has a lot of uncultivated land, but it is shrinking at an extremely fast rate. Population growth, increasing demand for food from world markets, and the desire to make the region agronomically self-sustaining are the main drivers for change. Industrialized agriculture and mechanization are seen as the solution, but these promote the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. This results in further loss of biodiversity, depleted soils and long-term stagnating yields. Together with climate change, this may lead to the collapse of the ecosystem.

Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) promotes a different approach: agroecology. This is a method of farming that is socially just, environmentally friendly, and economically sound.

KATC teaches small-scale farmers organic farming which helps them adapt to climate change and helps to mitigate it. Among the different methods farmers learn from KATC is how to make bokashi. This is an organic fertilizer that doesn’t involve oxygen in its production, therefore there are no greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane released as by-products.

Bokashi also increases organic matter in soil and makes it behave like a sponge. This allows the soil to retain more water and nutrients, reducing the risk of drought. It absorbs water faster, reducing runoff and erosion. It is also beneficial to organisms living in soil which are in symbiosis with plant roots.

Two years ago, a farmer who trained with KATC used bokashi on a small portion of farmland and used conventional fertilizer for the rest of the field. There was a severe drought that year but the area where he used bokashi retained enough water to yield crops. The rest of the field dried up completely. The experience convinced him and his family to use organic farming methods.

As climate change continues to increase uncertainty in farming in Southern Africa, agroecology has proven it can minimize risks posed by more frequent extreme weather events. This gives hope to people most impacted by climate change.