Lusaka — It is seven in the morning and Georgina Musende, 56, of Kamanga Township, which just lies east of the Zambian capital Lusaka, is already sweating as she digs into the dry earth. Every time the hoe hits the ground, the dust engulfs her.
But Musende, a single parent who supports her four children and 10 grandchildren, is not concerned about the scorching 35-degree Celsius heat nor the dust. She is worried that the delayed onset of the rainy season will affect her maize production.
"In the past, we knew that the Independence Day [Oct. 24] rainfall marked the beginning of the rainy season, but these days one doesn't exactly know when the rains will start," says Musende, who has already paid 90 dollars to rent a field near the township for the season.
"Of course, tilling this hard surface in this heat is tough. But I have to do it now so that when the rains come, I will quickly come and sow the seeds," she tells IPS, gazing at the sky.
About 15 kms away, 32-year-old Pearson Chola of Libala South Township, leans against a 210-litre drum he has filled with water. He has just collected it from the Lusaka Water Sewerage Company's Water Works Kiosk. Behind him a woman and a group of four young boys, aged between three and seven years old, roll their drums of water home.
"For sure, the climate is changing. Take this year, for example, the rainy season has delayed a lot. When it's like this, we suffer a lot, as many people come here to get water," Chola tells IPS.
Joseph K. Kanyanga, chief meteorologist at the Zambia Meteorological Department, tells IPS that weather patterns in Zambia have changed.
"Temperatures nowadays are higher than the 1950s; both maximum and minimum temperatures are showing a warming trend. As for rainfall, though there is uncertainty. There is an evident shift in the onset and end of the rainy season. The start of the rainy season shows the pronounced shift; at times starting as late as mid-December for most parts of Zambia," Kanyanga says.
The Zambia National Farmers' Union (ZNFU), which has over 15,000 members, is worried about the changing climate. According to a December 2012 International Food Policy Research Institute report on climate change in Zambia, agriculture accounts for about 20 percent of this southern African nation's GDP, with jobs in the sector accounting for 71.6 percent of employment here. Maize is the country's staple crop.
"Yes, we have received reports about the erratic rainfall from both commercial and small-scale farmers. Right now, farmers in Kabwe [the capital of Central Province and Zambia's second-largest city] are still holding on to their seeds. They are scared of planting because of the [erratic] rains. This is alarming: it will cause food insecurity due to crop failure because we are talking about predominantly rain-fed agriculture practiced mostly by small-scale farmers who make up more than 80 percent of farmers in Zambia," Sishekana Makweti, the ZNFU manager for gender, environment and forestry, tells IPS.
In March, the Zambian government, with help from the German government, launched a five-year Integrating Climate Change in Water Resources Monitoring project, which will play a role in managing the country's water resources. Zambia, however, has no national climate change policy but there are currently parliamentary consultations for the formulation of one.
Robert Chimambo, an environmental advocate and a board member of the Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN), an umbrella body of environmental civil society organisations, feels that the government needs to do more to manage the country's water resources.
"Forests play a critical role in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Deforestation is contributing a lot to variability in rainfall patterns. You know trees help in seeping surface runoff water and recharging our underground water. Forests also help in rain formation through transpiration. Therefore, you can't effectively manage your water resources without conserving your forests," he tells IPS.
He was referring to the fact the site for the Lusaka South Multi Facility Economic Zone (MFEZ), a government-driven project to promote foreign and domestic investment, lies within a former forest reserve known as Forest 26, which is located southwest of Lusaka.
Chimambo says that in the past, the forests reserves around Lusaka were protected by law and industries had previously not been allowed to operate within them.
"Sadly, the proposed location of the Multi Facility Economic Zone in Forest Reserve 26 will mean the destruction and degradation of the forest, which is right on top of the Lusaka aquifer. This would also mean poisoning the rivers and the ground water. How do you adapt to climate change and manage your water resources when such things are taking place?" Chimambo says.
According to a joint Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and Zambian government report, the country's forests cover 66 percent of the total landmass, though only 9.6 percent of these forests are protected.
"Currently, 65 percent of Zambia's population is in rural areas, their livelihoods essentially tied to the land and forests. Increased demand for food, wood energy, and other environmental services [to cater for the growing population] has contributed to decrease in forest areas. Between 1990 and 2010, the Forestry Department lost 126,912 hectares through degazettions, but not a single hectare was added to the protected forests as new reservations over the same period," the report states.
Both the ZCCN and ZNFU believe that implementing comprehensible sustainable management strategies and programmes like building dams to conserve water, encouraging conservation farming and improving rainfall formation will help many ordinary Zambians.