Sub-Saharan Africa is at the forefront of the devastating effects of climate change. The African continent will endure the greatest burden of climate change, with temperatures set to rise at a faster rate here than in any other region of the world.
The combined effects of climate change and El Niño have hit the countries of Southern and Eastern Africa with near continuous and devastating droughts since 2014. These droughts lead to widespread crop failure across Zambia, and several factors compounded the problem to set cereal prices soaring. Zambia’s maize production for the 2017/2018 crop season fell from 3.6 million to 2.4 million tonnes.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says droughts and floods over the last 30 years are estimated to have cost the country more than US$13.8 billion. If mitigating actions are not taken soon, climate change could cost the country an additional US$$4.3 billion in lost GDP over the next decade.
As most Zambians live in rural areas, they depend on the agricultural sector and these prolonged droughts have a dramatic effect on their livelihoods. The ensuing food insecurity has a corrosive effect on children’s nutrition and wellbeing, meaning the effects can last for generations.
How Zambia can combat climate change
All countries need to plan and prepare for the impact of climate change and innovate on several fronts. However, for developing economies like Zambia, the need is even greater
Firstly, it must become a market leader in the use of super crops. From “scuba” rice which can survive underwater to iron-rich beans that can withstand high temperatures or drought-resistant maize that are rich in vitamins and minerals, these crops have the potential to revolutionise agriculture in Africa. Super crops are attracting significant international support, with the UK’s Department for International Development recently committing £100m to fund research, some of which is supporting projects in Zambia.
Neria Investments Ltd, a company within Zambia’s MBI Group, has a proven track record of efficiently supplying fertiliser to Zambian farmers. This support led to a food surplus in 2015, which was exported to neighbouring countries devastated by climatic conditions. Neria’s Investments Ltd will continue to innovate and work with Zambian farmers to increase the yield of their land.
Secondly, Zambian industries must not only continue to embrace renewable technology but also look to diversify the energy sources which they utilise. With the construction of its largest ever solar power plant, Zambia is working to reduce its dependence on hydroelectricity – the source of crippling power shortages for the Zambian economy. The Zambian government has been installing hundreds of small solar-powered mills in rural areas since 2015 and this innovative solution helps address the country’s energy infrastructure problems while helping to hold down the price of food production.
The growth of renewable energy and electric vehicles in response to climate change also presents a significant opportunity for Zambia’s primary industry, copper mining. Copper is an extremely efficient conductor of electricity and heat, and as more countries put an end to petrol and diesel vehicles in the decades to come, the demand for copper will only increase – some suggest as much as 341% by 2050.
But mining—including for copper—is extremely energy intensive and one of the biggest contributors to global CO2 emissions. As one of the sector leaders, the MBI Group is excited to see new technologies that can significantly reduce the amount of energy and water consumed in the production of copper. This means Zambia can feed the global demand for technologies that reduce carbon emissions, while at the same time reducing its own carbon footprint in the process.
Finally, data is also playing an important role. After the droughts of recent years, UNDP and the Green Climate Fund provided Zambia with over $150m to establish better weather information and early warning systems. Agro-meteorological services are helping nearly 1 million farmers in Zambia in building more climate resilient lives.
Working together for a brighter – not a hotter – future
The Paris Agreement charts a new course in global efforts to combat climate change and its effects. Bringing together nations into a common cause, a key part of the Agreement is enhanced support to developing countries like Zambia, ensuring they can meet their contribution without leaving the poorest and most vulnerable behind.
But for that to work it requires the efforts of all Zambians – either through government-led projects and bottom-up community campaigns lead by our farming communities. But Zambian industries—like the MBI Group—must also play their part, pivoting their endeavours towards a ‘market-smart’ and ‘climate-smart’ future.