Responding to the climate crisis in Zambia, the Government supported by UN coalitions led by UNDP, FAO and WFP are helping women turn goat rearing into economic prosperity
By Moses Zangar, Jr.
Sylvia Chiinda lives on the edge of desperation. Her husband died a few years ago, leaving her with no savings or possessions. It was a crushing blow for the mother of seven.
To make matters worse, Zambia has seen a rise in more frequent and intense floods, recurrent droughts and other climate risks, that have reduced yields for farmers like Sylvia, putting lives and livelihoods in the crosshairs.With her maize and groundnut farm production dwindling, Sylvia was forced to find an alternative income to keep her family afloat.She started running a makeshift grocery shop in her village of Kanakanatapa in Zambia’s Chongwe District. But the income – just K300 in a good month – is barely enough to meet the necessities for her and her seven children.
“I can’t give up. I need an income because I have many children and it’s my responsibility to provide for them,” says Sylvia. In the face of rising climate risks and unprecedented adversity, the 47-year-old single mother and breadwinner is determined to change her situation.
LESS ACCESS TO LOANS
In least developed countries like Zambia, many rural families cannot obtain loans from mainstream banks to cope with the impacts of weather extremes. They are poor and viewed as high risks, compounding the challenges they face.For women in farming communities, the first hurdle to setting up a business is access to affordable credit. Getting a loan from a commercial bank is a nightmare of form-filling and intrusive questioning. Moreover, the absence of a commercial bank in their villages adds to their woes.
“Banks in the city won’t lend us money because we have no land title to put up as collateral,” Sylvia sighs.
HELP TO ADAPT
Single women like Sylvia Chiinda are among the most vulnerable in Zambia’s patriarchal traditional communities, where age-old customs dictate a woman’s life. This vulnerability is compounded by the ravages of climate change.
But as part of wider government efforts, a UN coalition mobilized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), involving the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) together with national institutions like the Ministry of Agriculture and Zambia Meteorological Department is helping climate-stressed small-scale farmers like Sylvia to tap into a booming – and drought resistant source of income – goat rearing.
With funding from the Green Climate Fund, the ‘Strengthening Climate Resilience of Agricultural Livelihoods in Agro-Ecological Regions I and II in Zambia (SCRALA) project is supporting resilient agricultural livelihoods in the face of climate change and promoting diversification practices to improve food security and income generation. The project is making important strides to empower women as rural entrepreneurs and agents of change.
A LIFESAVER IN GOATS
Sylvia is among more than 8,000 beneficiaries – mostly women – who were trained in goat rearing and animal husbandry practices through the far-reaching and innovative project. Women were provided with tools and training to prevent diseases, build sheds and breeding management. To kick off the intervention, each beneficiary received five goats.
A year later, Sylvia now has had a total of 30 goats, including additional goats she bought using proceeds from the sale of goat manure. To multiply the impacts of the project and build a steady income stream, Sylvia sold 10 of the goats and five goat offspring were passed on to help other women. This tiered, multiplier-effect approach capitalizes on initial handouts while promoting solidarity, equity and sustainability within communities. As a result, it is enabling to raise income levels across the 16 districts in Zambia where the project works.
The K5,000 Sylvia made from the sale of the 10 goats was spent on essential items for her children, including school-related fees and fertilisers.
“I’m now planning to invest in more goats and save enough money to buy my own land,” says a beaming Sylvia as she directs her remaining goats into a field for grazing.
This life changing moment did not just stop with Sylvia’s family. Mpeza Phiri, 49, a single mother of six living in the Luamba Agriculture Camp in eastern Zambia, says because of this initiative, her family now has a steady and stable income for the first time in their lives. As a result, the family now owns 10 goats and counting. Now when crisis hits, farmers like Mpeza and Sylvia have greater savings and equity. And equity means resilience.
Charity Lungu, a mother of four who lives in the same agriculture camp as Mpeza, has been able to support her family of 10 after selling some goats. Before then, Charity said her children would go to school hungry. Income from the goats has allowed her to afford uniforms and books for her children.
“They are now able to focus on school, not on hunger,” says Charity, as she tends to the bleating goats in her backyard.
“I am not worried any more about my children going hungry or falling ill. I can always sell a goat if we have needs,” says Anna Mumba, 48, of Luangwa District. The people of the village have suffered from recurring drought and dismal harvests in recent years.
“The SCRALA project provides small-scale farmers with goats to give them an alternative source of income in case their crops fail,” says Parick Muchimba, the acting project manager.
Goat farming in Zambia is set to grow in importance with huge demand from Saudi Arabia, which now wants to import as many as 1 million Zambian goats a year.
Zambia only has approximately 4 million goats being reared largely by small-scale operators – not nearly enough to meet the new demand, according to a senior livestock officer.
Back in the capital, Lusaka, goats sell for between $25 and $30 depending on the size and breed. Many of the women are looking to expand their herds to take advantage of a potential surge in demand for Zambian goats.
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
Sylvia, Mpeza, Charity, Anna and thousands of other women beneficiaries were without a doubt among the most vulnerable members of their communities. But with just a few goats – and the training and tools to keep their businesses growing – they are now well on their way to financial independence. As it accelerates its activities, the GCF-funded project will indirectly support approximately 3 million small-scale farmers in Zambia in building climate resilient lives.
Women supported through the goat-herding initiative say they have benefitted by gaining a stable income stream, and a new sense of independence and respect within their villages.
“Climate change is one of the major factors and challenges contributing to low productivity of farmers, especially at small scale level. As government, we are therefore pleased that our partnership with UNDP and GCF, under the SCRALA project, is supporting farmers, especially women, with opportunities and sustainable lifelong solutions to help boost productivity and adaptation to climate change effects,” says the Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary, Songowayo Zyambo.
“With the extra income from goat rearing, more than 8,000 beneficiaries, half of whom are women, will be able to pay for school expenses, improve their diets and afford medical costs for their families – giving them power over their lives and the means to lift themselves out of extreme poverty,” says Lionel Laurens, the UNDP Resident Representative in Zambia.
It’s an important step in realizing Zambia’s Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement, and accelerating progress to end hunger and poverty by 2030 as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Not only do the women sell goats to put food on their table, but they are also able to use the goat manure as a natural and effective fertiliser in their gardens. This is allowing them to grow vitamin-rich vegetables in abundance, provide their children with healthier meals and valuable sources of protein from the goat meat and milk, and improve climate-resilience, nature-friendly farming practices.
Note: the author is Communications Specialist within the Environment Unit at UNDP.