"This year, we've seen the worst drought ever," says Julliette Machona. "Usually the rivers run dry here in this southern part of Zambia by July, but this year, they were empty already in May. The little water we have left is just enough for us, the people and the cattle. We have no water left to raise any crops."
Machona is 35 years old, with four kids. When she finished secondary school in Zambia, her parents couldn't afford to send her to university at a cost of about US$2,000 per year, particularly given minimum wage is about a US$100 a month. Noticing the growing difficulties of making a living by growing tomatoes and maize in a region already receiving less than average rainfall, she got a group of women together called Tubeleke, which means "let's work together", and they started weaving baskets and brooms.
The business was not doing very well until 2015 when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stepped in to support the Forestry Department of Zambia through the Forest and Farm Facility, a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and AgriCord. The Forest and Farm Facility is an initiative for climate-resilient landscapes and improved livelihoods with a primary focus on strengthening forest and farm producer organizations.
"We assisted the group with various trainings to build their capacity in areas such as business development, good governance, resource management and improved skills in basket making," says Vincent Ziba, Forest and Farm Facility national facilitator. "The partnership's support is complementary to the REDD+ implementation. In the case of the basket weaving group, the link with REDD+ is the landscape management approach through sustainable harvesting of basket materials and involving the producers in resource management. This has led to improved sustainable and diversified income.
"Look at my brick house," says Machona. "That's how things have changed for me. Also, our association now has 27 households benefitting from the basket making, and as a group, we have diversified our incomes through other activities as well." Machona and her group started rearing rabbits, pigs and sheep, an idea that came from the Forest and Farm Facility and the Food and Agriculture Organization, who supported exposure trips to Tanzania and Benin where Juliette learned about raising animals. She is now making pig feed by growing sunflowers and soybeans, especially the sunflowers which do not need a lot of water.
A basket takes two days to be created: one day to collect the bamboo and one day to make it. They can then sell it on the local market for US$3. They are now also trying to plant bamboo themselves in order to harvest the basket materials in a sustainable way.
"To fight climate change, we need to get into activities that don't depend too much on forests or rain, so that's what we're working on every day," says Machona.