It is a hot sunny morning on a cloud-free day. Dressed in a red blouse and green chitenje, a cloth that covers waist-to-ankle, Mainala Banda walks slowly towards a grass-thatched house where she stores feed for her livestock. She quickly retrieves grass mixed with various dried crops and places it near the door of a kraal where she keeps 14 cattle.
Then she picks up a sprayer and sprays a mixture of water and salt on the fodder. Mrs. Banda says, “I have to spray salt on this fodder so that the animals find it tasty. When I open the door, the cattle will eat before they go to the dam to drink water and fetch for more food.”
Mrs. Banda is a 30-year-old widowed dairy farmer who rears cattle and goats for both milk and meat. She lives in the village of Mwanamlangeni in eastern Zambia’s Chipata district where, in recent years, rainfall has been very unpredictable due to climate change.
She says: “The rains can start late and end early or start early and end late. We are also experiencing high temperatures, dry spells, and floods. These climate change effects are making livestock farming difficult because fodder and water are becoming scarce.”
Mrs. Banda explains that, to deal with the challenge, she stores enough fodder to feed her livestock during the dry season. She says, “It is very difficult nowadays to keep dairy animals, especially when a farmer does not follow ways of adapting to climate change such as fodder storage.”
During the rainy season, she cuts plants like sesbania, cowpea, gliricidia, leucaena, guinea grass, sorghum, and maize. She stores them to feed to her animals in the dry season.
Mrs. Banda says she started to feel the negative impact of climate change on her livestock farming around 2014. She explains, “I recall that life used to be ok sometime back in 2008 to 2013 when rainfall was reliable and predictable. The rains used to come on time and we experienced fewer floods and drought.”
She adds: “In those days, animals were healthy and used to produce a lot of milk. This was because the temperature was not too hot and there was plenty of water and plenty of feed for the animals, unlike these days.”
Mrs. Banda says her dairy animals produce less milk when it is too hot and require a lot of water. She adds, “Now the floods and drought are destroying crops and plants, leaving us with little feed for our animals.”
She says that before she started cutting plants to make fodder for the dry season, her milk production had decreased significantly, from four litres per day to two.
But the fodder she now keeps has helped improve milk production. Mrs. Banda says, “Now, with the dried crops that I give to my animals, one cow gives me at least three litres of milk.”
To deal with the high temperatures, Mrs. Banda made a kraal where the livestock are shaded by live trees so that milk production is maintained despite the intense heat.
For water, she has access to a dam, constructed by the government, close to her farm and uses it as a source of water for her animals.
Cheelo Mudenda is the veterinary officer for the area and he helps Mrs. Banda and other livestock farmers cope with the effects of climate change. Mrs. Mudenda explains that climate change is indeed affecting small-scale dairy farmers.
She says, “Climate change disrupts crop or plant food availability for the animals. It reduces access to feed for dairy animals and consequently affects milk quantity and quality.”
Mrs. Mudenda adds: “Dairy farmers can adapt to climate change by using adaptation strategies such as growing fodder crops for their animals, or keeping fodder for use during the dry season. Dairy animals need access to quality feed and water for about 80% of the day. In the hot season, they drink a lot of water and need to rest in cool areas for about half of the day.”
Mrs. Banda says that because she is keeping fodder to feed her animals in the dry season, and because she has a kraal with live trees, she can continue to depend on selling milk to pay school fees for her children and other family needs.
She explains: “In the past, I used to have challenges in finding feed and water for my animals. But since I learned about fodder harvesting and storage from the veterinary extension officer, I now have enough feed for my livestock and I am able to support my family through livestock farming.”
Source: Farm Radio International