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Zambia: how to survive when rain and forests dwindle

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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. 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 Machona, a villager living in Choma, Zambia

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
Juliette Machona - Copyright: James Ekwam/UN-REDD
Inhabitants of Malambalala community heading to the marketplace during market day in Kasenenegwe district in Chipata, Zambia. - Copyright: James Ekwam/UN-REDD

The group started weaving baskets and brooms. The business was not doing very well until 2015 when UN-REDD stepped in to support the Forestry Department of Zambia through the Forest and Farm Facility.

UN REDD is a partnership between FAO, UNDP and UNEP for the protection of forests, funded by the European Union. The Facility it supports is an initiative for climate-resilient landscapes and improved livelihoods with a primary focus on strengthening forest and farm producer organisations.

The group was assisted with various trainings to build their capacity in areas such as business development, good governance, resource management and improved skills in basket making. Moreover, the basket-weaving producers were involved in resource management, making sure the basket materials were harvested in a sustainable way. 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 trips supported by the programme 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.

Juliette feeding the piglets.
Juliette feeding the piglets - Copyright: James Ekwam/UN-REDD

Tree Nursery Producers

The Zambian Forestry Department set up the Tree Nursery Producers Group.

We brought together various people with backyard seedling nurseries and organised 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.
- Christopher Chisange, a forestry officer in the Zambian Forestry Department.
Zebron Mwalle, a seed collector for Choma tree nursery, stands portrait on community farm in Zambia.
Zebron Mwalle, a seed collector for Choma tree nursery, stands for a portrait on Choma community farm in Zambia. - Copyright: James Ekwam/UN-REDD

The idea of organising 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.

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 the programme experts are now looking into this.

Original article published by UN REDD.