Agricultural technology innovations and diversification strategies to manage droughts


Photo credit: Africa Rising

Extent of adoption of sustainable intensification practices in target communities of eastern Zambia in 2010/11 to 2015/16.

Sustainable intensification practices―a ray of hope for Zambian farmers facing drought



Smallholder farmers in eastern Zambia, whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, have been increasingly exposed to rising intensity and frequency of El-Niño induced droughts. Recurrent droughts have escalated over the past 35 years with serious droughts in 1982/83, 1991/92, 1993/92, 1997/98, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2007/08, and 2015/16. Erratic rains and prolonged dry spells have adversely affected agricultural production and sustainability of rural livelihoods in those years.

The 2015/16 El Niño-induced drought is predicted to reduce maize yield by more than 40% in eastern Zambia, with the valley areas heavily affected. High levels of poverty among smallholder farmers (78%), insufficient resilience, economic diversification, and investment initiatives leave farmers vulnerable to these climate shocks. Predicted increases in intensity and frequency of droughts are likely to exacerbate climate-induced economic shock in the next decades, pushing farmers into a vicious cycle of poverty.

The socioeconomic team under the Africa RISING Project carried out a study to understand smallholder farmers’ perception of El-Niño-induced droughts, their impacts on their socioeconomic activities, and their adaptation strategies at the household level. In this study, adaptive capacity is defined as the ability of a system to adjust to climate shocks (including prolonged in-season droughts and shorter growing seasons < 100 days), to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities or to cope with the consequences. The adaptive capacity of communities depends on many factors such as a) household resource endowments; b) strong social network; c) climate-resilient farming technologies; d) access to inputs; e) knowledge of climate risk; d) agricultural extension services; f) rural financial markets; and g) marketing and storage systems. Although Zambia has an early warning system, forecasting institutions are inadequately equipped and communication to extension officers and farmers in user-friendly formats is limited.

Read the full article: Africa Rising


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.