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Weathering the climate crisis in Zambia

Mable slowly lowers the bucket into the well. She looks down the hole to see how much water is left. Today, she has to lower the bucket a little bit deeper than the days before.

“I am worried that the well will run dry in only a few weeks,” she says. When this happens, which it does often, she and her neighbors must walk five or more miles to find clean drinking water.

Mable lives in a remote village in southwestern Zambia at the foot of a river, its banks lined with vegetable gardens and meadows.

Because of climate change, extreme weather events are on the rise around the world, and, here, high temperatures, little rainfall and long periods of drought are now part of people’s everyday lives.

When the heavy rains come, the dry soil can’t absorb enough water, and Mable’s picturesque river floods.

The main source of income for Mable’s village is agriculture, as it is for 60 percent of the Zambian population. This makes the whole country dependent on the weather.

“The money comes from what we harvest. If there is not enough water, the harvest is scarce and there is not enough income,” Mable explains.

The river is their lifeline, but it is much shallower than it seems at first glance. Just two months without rain and it dries out completely.

Onions of an Ox

Gladness Siakwale, 23, and her husband cultivate one of the fields next to the river close to Mable’s garden. Gladness’s family of six grows tomatoes, cabbage, red onions, and beans, among other crops, and they live off the money they earn from selling their vegetables in the next town.

“Red onions are the most profitable,” she says. “Tomatoes, however, are very susceptible to pests.”

Gladness and Mable are both part of CARE’s community climate project that looks for longer-term resiliency solutions to local climate impacts.

For Gladness, crop diversification has helped her weather pest infestation, as well as drought. Diversification allows some plants to continue growing when others are infested, or when conditions are less favorable. CARE provides drought-resistant seeds and trains farmers in maximizing yields, despite the adverse climatic conditions.

Gladness says she is especially proud that they were recently able to buy an ox cart by selling their onions.

“I hope that soon we can expand our field and make even more profit,” she says.

Small innovations, big impacts

Febby Nachibanga folds the black plastic containers up and starts scooping the mud spiked with cow dung into it. With her thumb she presses the seed into the soil and starts watering.

In a yard full of little plants in different sizes and ages, she lines up the new seedling next to the others in the tree nursery.

Febby’s hands graze nimbly over the small seedlings. She plucks weeds while explaining: “The tree nursery is very important to our village. It allows us to improve our income and protect our agriculture at the same time.”

CARE provides the seedlings, and the villagers work together in the nursery. They fill the containers with soil, water the plants, and pull weeds.

  • By Sarah Easter