Categories: Articles, Resource managementPublished On: 17th March 2024

Drought strikes, Zambia adjusts!

By 3 min read


The what, why, and how of Zambia’s national state of disaster.

Zambian agriculture is facing trials and tribulations as the drought is becoming worse and rain stays away. President Hakainde Hichilema has officially declared Zambia as going through a national disaster. He says that the country has had up to five weeks at a time without any rain.

This is having a devastating effect on agriculture. President Hichilema says these dry spells are causing an immense amount of destruction. The majority of Zambia is affected, with 84 of the country’s 116 districts suffering from the drought. This means more than a million households are impacted. Hopes are fading with the drought predicted to last well into March.

The dry spell has been going on for weeks and is not predicted to come to an end anytime soon. (source: Pexels)

Why has Zambia declared a state of national disaster?

A drought is not as simple as a lack of rain or water supply. The safety of the entire country is in danger with the drought affecting food security, water supply, and energy supply. Almost half of the country’s planted areas, approximately one million hectares, have already been destroyed, according to President Hichilema. Since Zambia is a country that uses a lot of hydroelectric power, the crisis also threatens the country’s power supply.

Already the energy sector of the country is facing a deficit of between 450 and 500 megawatts. When a national crisis is declared, it allows the country to release more resources to try and combat the issue. President Hichilema said that in order to address the consequences of the drought more effectively, there will be a realignment of the 2024 national budget to allocate additional resources.

He emphasised that there would be provision of humanitarian aid to prevent hunger, urging collaborative partners to extend relief efforts beyond the distribution of grain. The president also highlighted Zambia’s preparedness to import and manage electricity strategically to sustain economic activities, particularly in the heavily power-dependent mining sector, as Zambia is Africa’s second largest copper producer.

What caused the drought?

El Niño is a climate pattern characterised by warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This leads to shifts in atmospheric circulation patterns, affecting weather globally. Consequences include altered rainfall patterns, increased temperatures, drought in some regions, and disruptions to marine ecosystems. El Niño typically occurs every two to seven years, lasting for several months, and is part of a natural climate cycle.

The occurrence of El Niño has a direct impact on the weather in Zambia. President Hichilema declared that the already existing drought was intensified by climate change and the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Combat the drought this way

There is no escaping the reality: a shortage of water is not good. However, there are some tips and tricks you can use to make this crisis a little more bearable on your farm:

  • Understand your crops’ watering needs: Watering your crops at specific times and intervals will be more beneficial than just watering it randomly. This means you are using the water effectively.
  • Store water for later use by building a water storage system or by storing it in ditches along fields.
  • Enhance your soil’s water retention and minimise evaporation by leaving crop residue on your field.
  • Minimise both the frequency and depth of tillage to decrease moisture loss, as it intensifies with the number of passes and the depth of cultivation.
  • Improve your soil by adding compost, planting cover crops, and growing green manure crops. This helps the soil to hold more water.
  • Cover your soil with straw or cardboard. This may not work well for big areas, but it is really good for small gardens. On larger vegetable farms black plastic covers can be rolled out with a tractor, to stop weeds from growing and keep the soil moist.

Al Jazeera. 29 Feb, 2024. Zambia declares national disaster after drought devastates agriculture.

Powell, M. 2014. 15 ways to help mitigate drought on your farm this season and beyond. Oregon State University.

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