Climate Change and Agriculture in Zambia: Impacts, Adaptation
and Mitigation options
Brian. P. Mulenga
, Hambulo Ngoma
and Solomon Tembo
This chapter provides a review of the impacts of climate change (mainly rainfall variability)
on Zambian agriculture. Focusing on smallholder farmers, the chapter summarizes recent
evidence on long term rainfall patterns, projected impacts of rainfall variability on yields and
activities implemented by smallholders to adapt to climate change. The chapter also discusses
the crucial role tropical forests can play to mitigate climate change in the context of REDD+.
The main message is a call for multi-sectoral policies to raise agricultural productivity to meet
increasing food demands while improving forest rents and providing alternative livelihoods
to curb deforestation. The chapter calls for more research on the carbon sequestration
potential of farming systems like conservation agriculture and agro-forestry in Zambia. As
policy measures to reduce reliance on fuelwood (which is a major cause of deforestation),
the chapter proposes tax and subsidy policy instruments to alternative energy choices such
This chapter reviewed evidence on historical climate trends, projections, and impacts on Zam-
bia’s agricultural sector. It also reviewed potential adaptation options for smallholder farmers
and the potential of the forestry sector to mitigate climate change. A review of past climate
patterns indicates that Zambia’s rainfall is highly variable, but with no signiﬁcant changes in
average seasonal rainfall between 1960 and 2010. In terms of temperature, historical records
from 1980 - 2010 indicate a rising trend across the country, with an increase in the average
daytime temperature above 30
C. Most crops suﬀer stunted growth/yield losses when exposed
to temperatures beyond this threshold, hence, even with little or no change in rainfall, the rising
temperatures are likely to result in yield losses of ﬁeld crops.
Climate projections speciﬁc to Zambia for the period 2000-2050 indicate that the country will
experience shifting rainfall patterns and rising temperatures. Diﬀerent climate models produce
varying results for rainfall. While climate models do not agree over the magnitude of changes in
rainfall patterns over the coming decades, there is considerable consensus that the country will
be hotter than it is today. On a brighter side, climate projections results for the region show
that Zambia will be the least aﬀected country in the region. This provides an opportunity for
Zambia to tap into export markets to supply various crops to deﬁcit countries. However, this
can only be realized if agricultural policies are right and predictable.
Analysis of crop sensitivity to climate shocks shows that maize will be among the most negatively
aﬀected crops with signiﬁcant yield reductions due to anticipated future climate patterns. This
has implications for policy and requires the country to implement policies and programs that
Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078, USA.
School of Economics and Business, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, PO Box 5003, 1432, Aas, Norway.
Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute, Lusaka, Zambia.
support smallholder farmers to diversify into other crops such as cotton, cassava, and sunﬂower,
which are anticipated to be less aﬀected by future climate variability and change. In terms of
adaptation, smallholder farmers are likely to move away from the current cropping pattern of
growing more land to local maize, to growing more hybrid maize and other drought tolerant crops
such as cotton, sunﬂower, and cassava. However, these strategies will only partially mitigate
the eﬀects of climate variability and change. Therefore, this requires larger-scale adaptation
measures such as heat-tolerant seed varieties, agricultural investments in research and extension,
and policies to reduce risks for smallholder farmers and enhance their adaptive capacities (e.g.,
weather index-based insurance, access to credit).
Concerning mitigation, Zambia has great potential to contribute towards mitigating climate
change through prudent management of its forest resources, given its vast forest cover. Prudent
management of forests resources requires a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of de-
forestation and designing policies and programs to curb deforestation and forest degradation.
Other potential mitigation options include agroforestry, aﬀorestation, and forest restoration.
There is increasing evidence on the drivers of deforestation in Zambia, with agricultural land
expansion and wood fuel, primarily charcoal, being the two most important drivers. Hence,
there is need for multi-sectoral policies and programs to improve agricultural productivity to
meet growing food demands, raise forest rents, and create alternative livelihood sources in order
to curb deforestation and forest degradation. There is need for more research on the carbon
sequestration potential of agroforestry, aﬀorestation conservation agriculture, and forest restora-
tion in Zambia. Further, there is need for energy policies and programs to promote the use of
alternative fuel sources. Various policy instruments such as tax incentives or subsidies to alter-
native cooking fuel sources like liquid petroleum gas are attractive in order to reduce charcoal
Full chapter citation: Mulenga, B. P., Ngoma, H. and Tembo, S. (2015). Climate Change
and Agriculture in Zambia: Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation options. In Chapoto, A. and
Sitko, N. J. (eds) Agriculture in Zambia: Past, Present, and Future. Lusaka Zambia: Indaba
Agricultural Policy Research Institute.