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Celebrating International Day of Rural Women: The story of a Zambian farmer

Celebrating International Day of Rural Women: The story of a Zambian farmer

On International Day of Rural Women held on October 15, ICRISAT applauds all women in dryland agriculture, exemplified by a Zambian farmer’s achievements.

Like many women residing in rural areas of Africa, Esther Zulu, a 51-year-old farmer from the Nyimba district in eastern Zambia, relies on dryland agriculture for her living.

As a single parent of four children, Esther has worked to build her farming enterprise to a stage where she can now independently pay for her children’s school fees.

“I inherited a farm and grass-roofed house that my parents used to live in. Today, with my farm income, I can pay for school fees and have built a house with bricks and with iron sheet roofing and have paved the path for other farm households too” said Esther.
“No one now sleeps on an empty stomach in my house, even in December and January when food is a challenge for many farmers in my district,” said Esther.

Her achievements have been spurred on by her long association with her farmer cooperative that is supported by Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO). ​

COMACO is a social enterprise that finances improved agricultural practices through the adoption of agroforestry and legume-based farming systems that increase food crop yields and market opportunities for over 230,000 small-scale farmers in eastern Zambia. ​

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) works in partnership with COMACO and the Chitetezo Cooperative Federation to accelerate climate resilience and expand the impacts of climate-smart agriculture.

Esther started as a group leader of 20 farmers in 2008 and became the Cooperative Chairperson in 2018, partnering with COMACO in climate-smart sustainable agricultural practices.

In 2022, she became the first Executive Committee Chairlady of the Chitetezo Cooperative Federation, with 55 Cooperatives. ​

She envisions the federation to grow as an umbrella Board that provides the cooperatives with a market, storage for crops, training for its leaders and education for its members. ​

Esther Zulu and other farmers examine their groundnut yield (Photo courtesy:  Kelvin Trautman | Kands Collective)
Esther Zulu and other farmers examine their groundnut yield (Photo courtesy:  Kelvin Trautman | Kands Collective)

Responding to Climate Variability

ICRISAT, through the Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) program, engages in the scaling of proven science-based climate innovations in Zambia. ICRISAT scientists work towards empowering the Chitetezo federation of the many cooperatives in partnership with COMACO to accelerate local climate action and expand the impact of climate-smart agriculture and climate information services.

With an unpredictable climate, Esther had been struggling to plan for forthcoming agriculture seasons. To address this challenge, ICRISAT scientists are developing the Intelligent Agricultural Systems Advisory Tool (ISat), with inputs from cooperative farmers such as Esther for customized sustainable farming in eastern Zambia. This helps farmers make better decisions responding to seasonal forecasts and effectively plan and apply climate-smart agriculture solutions.

“Back in the 1980s, the rainy season used to last between October and May. Today, the rainfall period has shortened and become erratic. ​ There are periods of flash floods, and yet rivers and streams are dried up. It has become difficult to anticipate climate-related events and prepare fields for the crop season,” said Esther.

Implementing Climate Smart Technologies

Now, Esther is practicing and promoting climate-smart technologies like minimum tillage, crop rotation, potholing and ripping. She also encourages others to plant Gliricidia trees in the fields to improve soil fertility.

“I use natural resources including trees, crop residues, livestock manure as compost, and return it back to my fields. I use minimum tillage. I grow maize as a staple and have diversified into other crops like groundnut and soybean to boost my income. I also raise chicken, cows, pigs and goats at my farm and plan to venture into fish farming,” said Esther.

Esther Zulu has been a strong advocate for sustainable climate-smart agriculture and hopes to end poverty among smallholder farmers in Zambia.

In recognition of her achievements, Esther will be joining the AICCRA team at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt between 5-19th November.

About the project

ICRISAT as part of AICCRA Zambia is supporting the partnership between COMACO and the Chitetezo Cooperative Federation to advance rural livelihoods while promoting sustainable climate-smart agriculture.

Scientific Contact: Dr Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, Senior Social Scientist, Enabling Systems Transformation, ICRISAT. Email id: [email protected]

(Banner image courtesy:  Kelvin Trautman | Kands Collective)




About The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is a pioneering International Organization committed to developing and improving dryland farming and agri-food systems to address the challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and environmental degradation affecting the 2.1 billion people residing in the drylands of Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond.

ICRISAT was established under a Memorandum of Agreement between the Government of India and the CGIAR on the 28 March 1972. In accordance with the Headquarters Agreement, the Government of India has extended the status of a specified “International Organisation” to ICRISAT under section 3 of the United Nations (Privileges and Immunities) Act, 1947 of the Republic of India through Extraordinary Gazette Notification No. UI/222(66)/71, dated 28 October 1972, issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Our offices:

Asia: India (Headquarters - Hyderabad)

East and Southern Africa:  Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe

West and Central Africa: Mali, Niger, Nigeria

For all media inquiries, please email: [email protected]

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
Hyderabad, Telangana, India