In last week’s Monday opinion, we looked at the role of climate information services (CIS) in developing climate resilience. This week, we are looking at the effective ways of enhancing climate information among the communities particularly farmers. As indicated last week, Zambia is no exception to the far-reaching impacts of climate change being experienced globally. The country’s agricultural sector, which employs 70% of the population, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate variability and change. As such, climate change is a harsh reality threatening agricultural livelihoods with erratic rainfall, rising temperatures, and extreme weather events that include droughts and floods. The poverty levels in the country— especially amongst the rural population are very high. Such adverse climatic changes pose an even severe threat to rural agriculture which often rely on rainfall. To navigate these challenges, the communities, and farmers in particular need timely and accessible climate information.

It is important to note that CIS are essential for Zambia’s agricultural sector because they provide timely and accurate information about weather and climate conditions. With this knowledge, farmers can make informed decisions regarding crop selection, planting, and harvesting as well as plan and prepare for climate-related shocks like droughts and floods. Additionally, CIS assists decision-makers in developing policies and programmes for climate-resilient agriculture as well as in allocating funds wisely to promote it. But how do we bridge the gap between scientific data and the decisions made in the fields?

To enhance climate information and communication among farmers and other stakeholders in the country, numerous mechanisms and strategies are being used that include the following:

Harnessing the Power of Local Voices: Climate-centred agricultural information can be efficiently disseminated through a variety of programming forms. These include drama, discussion and phone-in shows, forecasts, and news bulletins. For example, Zambia’s rural communities rely heavily on radio, particularly local FM stations in indigenous languages. Broadcasts featuring weather forecasts, tailored agro-advisories, and interviews with agricultural experts can effectively reach a wide audience. By incorporating a mix of informative and interactive programming, radio can engage farmers and provide them with the necessary climate information to make informed decisions about their farming practices. This not only disseminates information but fosters a sense of community and trust.

Mobile Phones: Mobile phones enhance the concept of knowledge in your hands. Mobile phone penetration in Zambia is high. SMS alerts with localized weather updates and climate-smart agriculture (CSA) tips can be a game-changer. Interactive USSD platforms or mobile apps, developed in local languages, can provide farmers with on-demand information and decision-making tools. For example, the WorldFish Centre has created a digital platform for CSI that gives Zambian small-scale farmers and fishers access to climate data. The platform’s objectives are to mitigate risks resulting from climatic unpredictability and assist in de-risking the value chains of aquatic food systems in the Southern African Development Community.

Building on Existing Networks: Zambia’s agricultural extension services play a crucial role. Empowering extension officers with training on climate change and communication skills allows them to become trusted advisors. Farmer field schools and farmer-to-farmer networks can further amplify knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer learning. Extension services should go beyond the traditional ways of relying on government workers. It also essential to provide training opportunities for radio producers on best practices for creating climate-centred agricultural programming.

Traditional Knowledge Meets Modern Science: Indigenous knowledge systems hold valuable insights on weather patterns and adaptation strategies. Merging this wisdom with scientific data can create a holistic approach to climate resilience. Community dialogues that bridge the gap between traditional and scientific knowledge can be highly effective.

Investing in the Future: Resources are needed for effective communication. The Zambian government needs to make investments in communication technology, infrastructure, and training, in collaboration with NGOs and foreign partners. This guarantees the long-term viability of initiatives to disseminate climate information.
In conclusion, by adopting a multi-pronged approach that leverages local media, mobile technology, existing networks, and indigenous knowledge, Zambia can empower its farmers to make informed decisions in a changing climate. This not only secures their livelihoods but safeguards the nation’s food security.

About the author

Solomon Mwampikita a Researcher at the Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) and Lecturer at NIPA. He holds bachelor’s degree in Environment Studies from the University of Zambia and Master of Science in Water Management and Governance from IHE Institute for Water Education with interest in climate and environment policy, and an enthusiast of indigenous knowledge.