Less rain, less electricity, less food

Due to below-normal rainfall in this year’s rainy season, Zambia is grappling with both constrained electricity generation from hydropower and low maize production.

The 22nd Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-22) last year predicted that most parts of southern Africa would have below-normal rainfall in this year’s rainy season. “In the energy sector, a decrease in hydro-power electricity is expected,” SARCOF-22 stated in a report published after its meeting in Zambia’s capital Lusaka in December 2018. Southern African states were warned of “potential water scarcity downstream the reservoirs”.

This prediction has come true, at least in Zambia. There are low water levels in major rivers on which dams have been constructed to generate electricity. Less water leads to less power production. Already, Zambia is rationing electricity to domestic and commercial users. The Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) has imposed four-hour power cuts at various times of the day to save water in the dam reservoirs.

Anna Mwamba, a teacher and resident of Kabwe in Central Province, feels the negative impacts of the power rationing in several ways. Because of blackouts in the evenings, “I sometimes fail to complete marking papers for my pupils,” she complains. Additionally, she often cannot use her electric stove and has to resort to buying charcoal for cooking – which means extra costs for her.

Due to the frequent power cuts, many people turn to charcoal, which leads to more illegal logging. The loss of trees aggravates the effects of climate change: less rain leads not only to constrained hydro-power generation, but also effects agriculture negatively, for instance lowering the production of maize, the country’s staple food. Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture has announced that for the 2018/2019 farming season, it expects a reduction of maize production by 16 % compared to the 2017/2018 season.

In light of the climate conditions that prevail in southern Africa, SARCOF recommends the following measures for the agricultural sector:

  • using more drought- and disease-tolerant crops, early-maturing crops and high-yield varieties,
  • making agricultural inputs available to farmers before the onset of the rains,
  • employing water conservation and better harvesting techniques,
  • staggering planting dates for crops and increasing investment in irrigation and
  • employing post-harvest management to avoid losses.


Humphrey Nkonde is assistant to the editor-in-chief at Mission Press and a media researcher based in Ndola, Zambia.



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