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Goat rearing offers escape for Zambia's climate-hit farmers

Mulapwa Mukopole/UNDP Zambia

How a project backed by the Green Climate Fund and UNDP in Zambia has transformed the life of small-scale farmers 

By Mulapwa Mukopole, Communications Officer-SCRALA, UNDP Zambia

For many years, small-scale farmer Abian Balenga's livelihood depended almost exclusively on the uncertain weather patterns.

Extreme weather conditions such as severe floods and dry spells in Kazungula district, Southern province, meant he would rarely make a steady income from his crops.

The district, which lies 20 kilometres north of Livingstone, Zambia’s tourist capital, has a history of climate swings that choke incomes and cripple crops, affecting farmers’ livelihoods, as farming is the main source of livelihood in most rural parts of the country.

Although Balenga shifted to growing drought-tolerant crops like sorghum and millet, the small-scale farmer still struggled to produce reliable yields, leaving him nursing financial losses - putting his family at risk of food insecurity.

For years, his maize, sorghum and millet farm production kept on dwindling. However, Balenga was selected as one of the participants under the goat pass-on scheme, a model under the project that promotes alternative livelihood and helps farmers cope with the negative effects of climate change.

The project has uplifted his livelihood and he can now make a decent living through drought or downpours, keeping goats that produce milk and food to compensate for the lost income from farming.

"I can easily sell a few goats whenever we need to pay school fees or cover some medical expenses," said the 34-year-old father of three.

Balenga benefitted from a project that is helping small-scale farmers in his district to boost resilience to the impacts of unpredictable weather by turning to innovative agriculture techniques to increase their yields.

The initiative, known as the Strengthening Climate Resilience of Agricultural Livelihoods in Agro-Ecological Regions I and II in Zambia, in short 'SCRALA', is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture through a United Nations-led partnership involving the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and the World Food Programme (WFP), working together with national institutions including the Zambia Meteorological Department (ZMD), and the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) with funding from the Green Climate Fund, which supports climate action in developing countries.

In 2019, Balenga was among the people in his village, Siyamulanga, and other farming communities who were trained in goat rearing and animal husbandry practices through the far-reaching and innovative project.

Participants were provided with tools and training to prevent diseases, build sheds and on breeding management. To kick off the intervention, each participant received five goats. By 2021, Balenga’s herd had grown to nine goats.

To multiply the impacts of the project, he passed on five of his goat offspring to help others benefit from the Pass-On Concept of economic empowerment through goat rearing. The following year brought even greater success as Balenga had a total of 46 goats.

After selling 10 goats at K500 (US$18), he has been able to build his long-awaited dream house, made of iron sheets, mud bricks, cement, and nails.

Balenga's boundless ambition led him to diversify and build steady income streams. By April of the following year, he successfully sold 15 goats, yielding an amount of K8,000 (US$377). He then used the money to further invest in a bale of second-hand clothing, locally known as “salaula,” and opened a grocery shop.

“Gone are the days when my children went to bed hungry. We now eat well, and my diet has changed. I can now afford any type of food my household requires, and this has improved the wellbeing of my children,” said a beaming Balenga.

Today, Balenga is no longer burdened by the past. He enjoys the simple pleasures of life, providing his family with meat, milk, and nutritious meals.

His home has transformed from a mud hut to a comfortable home with beds, and his children have all the school supplies they need. Balenga envisions expanding his clothing business, purchasing a motorbike for efficient transportation, and trading more maize for livestock.

While drought once devastated his crops, Balenga now practices conservation agriculture, increasing his maize harvest to 32 by 50kg bags of maize. His livestock, including 40 goats, eight pigs, and five cows, provide him with a stable source of income.

“The SCRALA project demonstrates how critical climate resilience and adaptation is towards social protection by reducing vulnerabilities and risks, and by promoting socio-economic development through provision of appropriate farm inputs, skills and information that enhance resilience against climate related disasters and shocks to small-scale farmers at risk of climate change,” said Green Mbozi, the Permanent Secretary in Charge of Technical Services in the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia.

“UNDP will continue to support the government in strengthening the climate resilience of small-scale farmers by implementing ‘climate-smart agriculture’ focused on commercialization and semi processing of products along with improved access to markets and alternative livelihoods. Additional support will improve farmer's access to weather indexed insurance schemes and climate information services for climate risk management,” said James Wakiaga, the UNDP Resident Representative in Zambia.

This tiered, multiplier-effect approach has not only changed the life of Abian Balenga. It has also helped to raise income levels for approximately more than 123,313 small-scale farmers across the 16 districts in Zambia where the project operates.

This story was first published by UNDP Zambia on Exposure here.

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