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Farmers coping with on-going drought in southern Africa need better weather advice and insurance


Feed is scarce for livestock in the dry season in Zimbabwe. Farmers can lose up to 30% of their herds in these three months (photo credit: Swathi Sridharan/ICRISAT).

‘Southern African farmers facing hunger as a result of worsening drought know a lot about climate change but lack the resources to put solutions that work into place, agriculture and development researchers say. . . .

‘In many cases, farmers are simply not aware of potential solutions, said Oluyede Ajayi, a senior programme coordinator with the [Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation], speaking on the sidelines of a regional meeting this week in Johannesburg on scaling up climate-smart agricultural solutions.

‘Such shortcomings are one reason an ongoing drought in southern Africa has left 23 million people dependent on food aid, with another 13 million in need of help, according to the Southern African Development Community, which launched a $2.8 billion emergency appeal in July.

‘But a new regional push, focused on promoting four key actions to adapt agriculture and curb growing hunger, could help, Ajayi said.

‘The best ways to assist southern Africa’s farmers, agricultural experts said, are by increasing their access to insurance for crop failure and livestock deaths, and giving them better weather advice via mobile phone. . . .

“[G]oats, sheep and chickens are considered animals that can take care of themselves, unlike other animals,” said Sikhalazo Dube, a southern African representative of the International Livestock Research Institute.

Southern Africa so far this year has lost over 630,000 cattle, worth an estimated $220 million, to drought, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

‘That money could have been saved if farmers had taken out insurance on their livestock, slaughtered them early in the face of drought warnings or found ways to feed them as pastures dried up, said Godwin Mashiri, a micro-insurance expert with mobile phone company Econet Wireless, based in Zimbabwe.

‘But persuading farmers to buy indexed insurance, which provides payouts when certain weather triggers are reached—such as a certain number of days without rain—remains a struggle, he admitted. . . .’

In Zimbabwe, some farmers in Mashonaland East province have adapted to the dryer weather by growing drought-resistant feed for their livestock, such as cowpea or velvet beans, alongside maize, the region’s staple crop.

The project, funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research, has helped dairy farmers keep animals alive and helped them avoid buying costly commercial feed to get their animals through the drought, Dube said. . . .

Read the whole article by Busani Bafana, Smarter farming could cut hunger in drought-hit southern Africa—researchers, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 15 Sep 2016.

Read a related article on ILRI’s Sustainable Livestock Digest:  Are cows the next development boom for smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe?, 19 Sep 2016.

For more information about ILRI’s research in southern Africa, consult Sikhalazo Dube, ILRI representative for southern Africa, at, or visit this ILRI website portal.

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