The case for Evergreen Agriculture in Africa: Enhancing food security with climate change adaptation and mitigation in Zambia

Case Summary: 

Zambia is a developing country with a rapidly growing population but strained food supply. Like many other developing countries, Zambia depends on local food production. However, Zambia is known to have low crop yields with an average of 1.1 tons of maize (a significant commercial crop) per hectare compared to other cereals which yield between 2.5-4.5 tons per hectare in South and East Asia. Increasing crop production and conserving natural resources, while increasing the countries resilience to extreme weather events and climate change is a top priority for the Zambian government.

Since the 1990’s the Zambian government, Zambia’s Conservation Farming Unit (CFU), and the World Agroforestry Centre have been working to develop “evergreen agriculture” programs. Evergreen agriculture is the integration of trees into food crop production systems. This has been most evident in their agroforestry and conservation agriculture programs. Agroforestry involves integrating tree species that enrich soil, produce valuable bi-products, and increase crop yield. Agroforestry was shown to increase average yield of maize to 4.1 tons per hectare. Conservation agriculture uses trees and bushes to help fix nitrogen in the soil and maintain a high crop yield across multiple growing seasons.

Both approaches, though with different end goals, have proven successful but also require intense scale-up. Agroforestry has been implemented by 160,000 maize farmers though this still represents only 10% of the country’s maize growing land. Conservation agriculture has been implemented by more than 150,000 farming families but has room to grow.

Key factors affecting the success of the programs identified as necessary for continued growth by the Zambian government, CFU, and the World Agroforestry Centre include:

  • Scaling-up access to seeds of specific tree species. Current estimates show that for wide-scale deployment seed inventories must increase 4-5 times.
  • Increase access to financing. This has included using Zambian banks and guaranteed loan policies. But future programs are looking towards international funding and developing nationally approved mitigation actions (NAMAs) a financing program from the UN.
  • Establishing start-up development programs. CFU has experience with farmers that shows, once demonstrated, farmers are quick to adapt advantageous practices but require real-world demonstration on the start-up level.
  • Building extension offices and expanding extension services that provide training and knowledge dissemination at the local level.
  • Launching national campaigns to encourage wide-scale uptake of farming practices.
  • Experimenting with carbon markets and valuing the carbon stored in trees in agroforested lands. While still in its early stages, carbon markets can form a valuable and non-trivial income source for Africa which could sequester up to 50 billion tons of carbon over the next 50 years through agroforestry.
Sub-Saharan Africa
Action Area 
Planning and Implementation Activity 
Developing Strategies and Plans, Governance and Stakeholder Engagement, Financing Implementation, Long-Term Strategies
Sectors and Themes 
Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)
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