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Interview with Nachilala Nkombo


Zambia Country Director for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Nachilala Nkombo, discusses the role of both the public and private sectors in adapting agricultural value chains in response to the dual challenges of rapid population growth, and climate change.

Nachilala Nkombo explains why sustainable natural resource management is key to ensuring that Africa is able to meet the food demands of the current and future generations

Nachilala leads Africa
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published in October 2018, gives us just 12 years to transform global food systems to limit the irreversible impacts of climate change. At WWF, how are you promoting more ‘climate-smart’ agricultural practices?

At the community level, we are working with over 3,000 farmers in south western Zambia to build the climate resilience of the families there. We do this by providing direct training on climate-smart approaches to food production and working with government extension systems, as well as a peer network of farmers, to disseminate knowledge amongst farmers. We have also introduced climate-smart technologies and practices, such as minimum tillage, crop rotation, soil cover and drought-tolerant seeds. We support two farmer groups with the multiplication of drought-adapted seed and help them to certify the improved seed so that it can be used by other farmers in the locality.

In addition, we have empowered the community to build post-harvest technology that supports food storage and preservation using local materials. This means that farmers are not forced to sell their produce at cheaper prices when there is surplus food, and ensures that they have food available during harder months. The combination of improved extension services, access to drought-tolerant seed and better post-harvest handling knowledge, has seen an improvement in terms of food and income security for the communities and farmers involved. As a result, farmers’ yields have increased by between 1.7 t/ha and 4.6 t/ha, depending on their access to kraal cattle manure and the length of time that they have been engaging in the conservation agriculture practices promoted by WWF. To ensure that the income security of these communities further improves, we are trying to link them to sustainable markets – businesses sourcing produce from farmers using conservation agriculture and other climate-smart technologies.

At the national level, we are involved in influencing policies. WWF Zambia has been instrumental in shaping the climate change policy, the national adaptation plan and the REDD+ programmes in the country. All of these programmes are meant to prepare Zambia to better respond to the challenges of climate change. We have also been working directly with the Ministry of Agriculture to advocate for more funding to be channelled into climate-smart agricultural practices.

Africa’s growing population is placing unprecedented pressure on the continent’s food systems; how can governments better support the sustainable intensification of agriculture in order to meet increasing food demands?

African agricultural policies have to be climate proofed. For African governments to cope with the rising population, and growing pressure on land and food production systems, it is important that traditional policies are mainstreamed with climate change adaptation strategies for efficient use of water, land and other key resources for food production. For example, one of the programmes that WWF supports is working with the private sector, as well as smallholder farmers, to improve water efficiency, especially with regards to storage. These are challenges that cannot be dealt with at an individual farmer level or individual company level. It is therefore important that practices for increased resource efficiency are part of national strategies and are also adopted by the private sector.

Governments need to plan on the basis of available resources and the expected limitations of these resources, in the context of climate change and rapid population growth. For instance, in a high rainfall year, annual runoff can be as much as 130 km3 per year while, during severe drought years, it can drop to as low as 68 km3 per year which, in turn, affects the amount of surface water available. While the general narrative has been of an abundant resource base, the reality is that the availability of key resources, such as water, is very variable across different time periods and geographies. There is, therefore, a need to establish a balance in terms of extraction of water, use of land, etc., to ensure that we are providing for the current generation, but also not compromising the availability of these resources for future generations.

One of the things that WWF would like to see more in Africa is national strategies for restoration and replenishment of degraded soils and land. We should not just open up new land because the population is growing, but also look for ways to play a role in large-scale reforestation. A lot of African governments have signed up to Afri100, which is a commitment to restore millions of hectares of degraded land. We are calling on the Zambian Government to join this group because, as a country, we are affected by large-scale deforestation. In fact, Zambia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, losing about 250,000 ha of forest cover every year.

You are also a member of the Malabo Montpellier (MaMo) Panel, which brings policymakers from across Africa together to assess strategies for achieving food security and improved nutrition. What is the value of sharing experiences of successful policies between African nations?

There is a lot of value in knowledge exchange, especially in the context of the rising demand for food and climate change. In particular, establishing a dialogue and sharing experiences can help African countries to deliberately and quickly identify workable and scalable solutions. If an approach has worked in Malawi, for example, it can be suitably adopted in Zambia. The MaMo Panel encourages African countries to share their ideas and success stories with other countries for replication. In addition, the Panel provides a network of researchers with the technical know-how of the best ways to implement such solutions, offering policymakers access to the information they need to make informed policy decisions. The international collaboration facilitated by the MaMo Panel, and other similar organisations, is essential to ensure investment is channeled into effective solutions for achieving food and nutrition security in Africa.

What role must the private sector play in promoting the sustainability of agricultural supply chains?

I think the private sector has a big role to play. The increasing population offers a huge market opportunity, which they need to take advantage of – not just to improve their profits – but also to lift up communities that are part of their supply chain. Private sector companies need to provide access to affordable technology and profitable markets, particularly for smallholder farmers who produce the majority of our food. As you may know, two major challenges that farmers face are the lack of suitable financing mechanisms, which meet their needs, and access to reliable markets where they can sell their produce at a fair price. The private sector can provide tailored financial services and facilitate opportunities for capacity building to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to move from subsistence farming to a higher level of production, where they can consistently supply larger premium markets. In the context of climate change, there is increased opportunity for the private sector to come up with tailored insurance products that ensure farmers’ investments are protected and improve their climate resilience.

Public-private sector collaboration is essential to improve access to water, land and seeds for smallholder farmers, as well as ensure the sustainability of extension services and, to some extent, financial and market services. The provision of these services and access to the necessary resources is a gap that needs to be filled and, in filling that gap, technology could play a role. The public and private sectors must work together to determine how we can harness the power of technology and the internet – and improve connectivity – so that farmers’ access to these important resources and services is quick and efficient. Technology has the potential to eliminate middlemen and ensure that farmers have access to a range of sustainable markets across the globe. But, beyond the internet, I still believe that people-to-people connection is very important, and I encourage farmers to respond to the climate challenge as a united force. Here, the private sector can help bring farmers together to implement climate-smart agricultural practices across the continent.     

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