Zambian women lead the way
in conservation farming

Woman farmer in Zambia
Esnart Siandavu displays rice seedlings and peas produced from her farm. (Photo: UNDP in Zambia)

Esnart Siandavu, 49, is engaged in a passionate discussion with a group of farmers on how to grow better crops. Over the past 10 years, their Southern Zambian village of Muyumbela has been prone to extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

Crops and cattle have been destroyed, eliminating important sources of food and revenue and impacting the ability of families to send their children to school.


  • The project addresses rural communities' vulnerability to climate change by providing training in sustainable farming techniques.
  • A total of 4,530 households are benefitting from the project in 8 districts.
  • The US $3.9 million project aims to reach 1.2 million small-scale farmers by 2017.

“Crop performance is always poor, and yields are often very low because of drought,” Esnart said. “My family runs out of food between February and March the following year until we are able to harvest new crops.”

Consequently, communities resorted to short-term measures to survive, such as cutting down and burning trees to make charcoal, which increased deforestation.

To help solve the problem, Esnart and another 2,000 farmers, 800 of them women, organized themselves into self-help groups and embraced conservation farming to increase their productivity while diversifying crops and livestock.

Supported by UNDP and the Zambian Government through a US $3.9 million project, local communities here and in seven other districts across the country have embraced the scheme. UNDP has been training staff at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, who in turn train the smallholder farmers in sustainable farming techniques.

As a result, many of the women have become beekeepers and used improved methods to produce new crops such as rice, sorghum, peas, sunflowers and sweet potatoes. Young people are also being introduced to horticulture and growing onions, tomatoes and watermelons.

The communities learn to conserve rainwater by building terraces on sloped land, and learn  conservation farming techniques to help improve soil moisture retention and reduce erosion. Small dams are also used to retain silt.

UNDP also supported the construction of 16 weather stations in the eight districts where the programme operates. In addition, Zambia’s Metrological Department trained several farmers to measure air and soil temperature, humidity, wind speed, rainfall and solar radiation. The farmers advise their communities on what crops to plant at specific times of the year.

“My yields have now increased substantially since adopting conservation farming method,” Esnart happily said.

“We now have enough food throughout the year,” says Patricia Munwela, another conservation farmer.

In this conservative part of rural Zambia, women have few land tenure rights and little experience asserting themselves in a social context due to the gender imbalances in land access, ownership and control.

Areas that were previously flooded and were thought to be useless are now used for rice production to supplement the traditional maize staple crop. The women have taken a significant part in the rice production, recording good harvests.

“This has led to more income for their households and has also increased the women’s involvement in decision-making at household level and in farming operations through farmer groups,” said Viola Morgan, UNDP Country Director in Zambia.

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