Zambia: El Niño Pushes Zambian Farmers to Question Maize Habit


    Lusaka — Forward-thinking farmers in drought-hit Zambia are planning to trim the amount of maize they plant, switching to faster-growing crops such as beans that can better survive erratic weather.
    “I will have to stop growing maize and find other crops to sustain our livelihood because we have had no rains this season,” said Sinoya Phiri, a 42-year-old peasant farmer in Katyoka village, around 27 km (16.78 miles) south of the capital Lusaka.
    He usually plants his maize crop between November 15 and 20, at the onset of the rainy season, but last year the rains did not come except for one downpour in mid-December.
    “Since then we haven’t had any rains, and if it doesn’t rain in the next week, with this extraordinary heat, I am afraid even the little surviving crop will dry up completely,” Phiri said in early January.
    The abnormal conditions have prompted him to start keeping pigs and chickens, as well as try out crops like sugar beans and soya beans, which mature more quickly than maize.
    Zambia faces a critical food shortage as most areas where food crops are grown, concentrated in the south, have been hit by the current dry spell.
    The majority of peasant farmers depend on the rains to irrigate their maize crop, which is used to produce the country’s staple food – a maize-meal dish called nshima consumed by most Zambians.
    The director of the Zambia Meteorological Department (ZMD), Jacob Nkomoki, said the dry spell was a result of the El Niño weather phenomenon which has brought drought conditions to southern Africa, combined with dry air flowing from the southeast of the continent.
    It has mainly affected southern parts of Zambia, including Southern, Western, Lusaka, Central and Eastern provinces. Nkomoki said most of these places recorded less than 40 mm of rainfall between mid-November and early January.
    On January 8, Lusaka and some southern areas were hit by a violent hailstorm that left a trail of destruction. It killed five people in the capital, destroyed buildings and washed away already wilted crops.