Zambia: How to Survive When Rain and Forests Dwindle

To fight climate change, local communities need to develop alternative livelihoods

that don’t depend too much on forests or rain.

Creating Alternative Livelihoods

“This year, we’ve seen the worst drought ever,”

says Julliette Machona,
a villager living in Choma, Zambia.

“Usually, the rivers run dry here in this southern part of Zambia by July, but this year, they were empty already by May. The little water we have left is just enough for us- the people and the cattle. We have no water to raise any crops.”

Juliette is 35 years old, with four kids. When she finished secondary school in Zambia, her parents couldn’t afford to send her to university, which cost USD $2,000 per year, given that the country’s minimum wage is about $USD 100 a month. When she realized the economic hardships of making a living by growing tomatoes and maize in a region that receives less than average rainfall, she got a group of women together and created “Tubeleke”, which means, “let’s work together.”

Juliette Machona

The group started weaving baskets and brooms. The business was not doing very well until 2015 when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stepped in to support the Forestry Department of Zambia through the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), a partnership between FAO, IIED, IUCN and AgriCord. FFF is an initiative for climate-resilient landscapes and improved livelihoods with a primary focus on strengthening forest and farm producer organizations.

“We assisted the group with various trainings to build their capacity in areas such as business development, good governance, resource management and improved skills in basket making,”

says Vincent Ziba,
a FFF national facilitator.

“The partnership’s support is complementary to the REDD+ implementation. In the case of the basket-weaving group, the link with REDD+ is the landscape management approach through the sustainable harvesting of basket materials and involving the producers in resource management. This has led to improved sustainable and diversified income.”

“Look at my brick house,” says Juliette. “That’s how things have changed for me. Also, our association now has 27 households benefitting from the basket making activities, and as a group, we have diversified our incomes through other activities as well.” Juliette and her group started rearing rabbits, pigs and sheep, an idea that came from FFF/FAO-supported exposure trips to Tanzania and Benin where Juliette learned how to raise animals. She is now facilitating the production of pig feed by growing sunflowers and soybeans, especially sunflowers that do not need a lot of water to grow.

A basket takes two days to be created: one day to collect the bamboo and one day to make it. They can then sell it on the local market for $USD 3. They are now also trying to plant bamboo themselves in order to harvest the basket materials in a more sustainable way.

Juliette feeding the piglets.

“To fight climate change, we need to get into activities that don’t depend too much on forests or rain, so that’s what we’re working on every day,”

says Juliette Machona.

Tree Nursery Producers

The Zambian Forestry Department set up the Tree Nursery Producers Group. “We brought together various people with backyard seedling nurseries and organized an association that provided them with a plot of land as a pilot project. This allowed them to work together on one big tree nursery while getting training and marketing advice,” says Christopher Chisange, a forestry officer in the Zambian Forestry Department. The idea of organizing tree nursery producers in one place was a lesson from the exchange visit to Kenya by the Forestry Department staff organized by FFF.

The Forestry Department’s regular training sessions taught participants how to make seedbeds and collect seeds, and exchange visits were facilitated both within and outside country for peer-to-peer learning. They also managed to find someone, by the name of Zebron Mwalle, who provides them with good quality seeds.

Zebron Mwalle provides good quality seeds.

The tree nursery started in 2017 and has seedlings for various purposes: agriculture, ornamental, fruit trees, woodlots and fodder trees for livestock. The chairperson, Veronica Nweemba, says: “Our group has 34 members of which one third are very motivated women. We are producing seedlings such as moringa, lemons, bamboo, eucalyptus, mahogany, cashew nuts and guavas. The first year, we started with 30,000 seedlings and it went so well that members could afford to pay their children’s school fees, buy a bicycle, fertilizer, among other things. This year, we had great hopes and planted 100,000 seedlings, but the rain didn’t come and most of the seedlings have withered away.”

“Although this year’s harvest is a failure, we pray for rain next year so that our work will be rewarded and we can live and breathe easily,” says Veronica. The solution would be to have a borehole next to the nursery, and FAO Zambia is now looking into this, after a visit from George Okech of FAO Zambia.

Charcoal: A Burning Issue

Studies have identified charcoal production as one of the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Zambia. The traditional methods of making charcoal lead to high carbon emissions and are a waste of wood resources.

“Of course, I would prefer not making charcoal. It’s bad for my health, but it’s also harmful to the women who are using it to cook and it destroys the forest,” says one of the members of the Choma Charcoal Association in Zambia. “But what can we do? The reality is that we still depend on it, especially now that there is a severe drought. One of the dams is empty and electricity is becoming scarce, so more people than ever are relying on charcoal. I myself cannot grow crops due to the lack of water, so I need to survive and therefore, have returned to making charcoal.”

Under the lead of Mercy Mupeta Kandula, the Provincial Forestry Officer for Choma, together with the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources in Zambia and the FFF, charcoal producers have been educated on the illegality of charcoal burning and trained in improved methods.

“We involved the charcoal producers in woodlot establishment and regeneration programs, and also set up a participatory guarantee system to certify sustainable charcoal production. The link with REDD+ is clear; we help reduce one of the drivers of deforestation by improving sustainable production methods , reducing the need to cut trees and reducing carbon emissions,”

says Mercy.

Improved kiln
Kelvin Phiri

“We introduced an improved kiln that has a chimney made of drums,” says trainer Kelvin Phiri. “The traditional way to produce charcoal is to cut big hardwood logs, put sand on them and set them on fire. Then, they burn without oxygen for a couple of days and create charcoal. In the improved system, we just prune trees, take only small branches, put them into the improved kiln, seal it with sand and let it burn. The big difference is with the old method, the carbon is retained in the charcoal, whereas with the chimney kiln, the carbon stays in the drums so they are less harmful for the producer and the user. When cleaning out the drums, we pour the carbon back into the soil,” says Kelvin.

“FFF support is unique for Zambia,”

says George Okech,
the FAO Representative in Zambia.

“The partnership’s support is complementary to the REDD+ implementation. In the case of the basket-weaving group, the link with REDD+ is the landscape management approach through the sustainable harvesting of basket materials and involving the producers in resource management. This has led to improved sustainable and diversified income.”

Arid areas in Choma, Zambia

Story by: Griet Ingrid Dierckxsens, Africa regional Communications and Knowledge Management specialist for the UN-REDD Programme in Nairobi, Kenya.
Videos and photos by: James Ekwam/UN-REDD