Nearly one year after installing
microclimate measuring tools in the maize fields of Zambia, a team of researchers
returned this August to expand a multi-year, National Science Foundation-funded project studying small farmers’ decision-making in the face of climate variability.
Scientists from Zambia Agricultural Research Institute
, Indiana University, and University of California, Santa Barbara collaborated to deploy 60 new Arable Marks in the semi-arid Southern Province with two goals in mind: to gain insight into how farmers’ decision-making impacts yields, and to to help researchers understand these impacts in developing more efficient modeling tools.
According to Allan Chillenga, Agricultural Research Officer at ZARI Mt. Makulu, 80% of farmers in Zambia are small-scale, embodying a diverse set of traditional knowledge and practices, as well as harvesting a large amount of the country’s food supply. Understanding how different farmers adapt to ever-increasing climate variability is critical to food security and preserving livelihoods, on both an individual and collective scale. “Management decisions such as when to plant and harvest can have marked impacts on yield, and we’re trying to understand that in a context where there is relatively little data available at the household level, and poor meteorological data,” says Chillenga.
Indiana University Professor of Geography Dr. Tom Evans agrees, noting that “the network of meteorological instrumentation is relatively sparse in Zambia compared to many countries. This data gap is a serious challenge in a country where so many households are reliant on subsistence agriculture where droughts and dry spells frequently affect crop productivity. Some will adjust planting dates as they consider possible long-term changes in rainy season onset, while others will maintain what they consider tried and tested farm management decisions.”