Adapting to Climate Change Through Conservation Agriculture: A Gendered Analysis of Eastern Zambia


Senior Lecturer

University of Zambia

Bridget Bwalya Umar is a senior lecturer at the University of Zambia, and Bridget’s research focus is Climate smart agriculture, Climate change, gender and natural resources management, Land governance, Political agronomy and Smallholder agricultural development.


Climate variability has increased, and this affects men and women smallholder farmers differently due to their gender roles and access to resources.

Key Findings

This research shows the gendered outcomes of climate variability in agricultural communities. A lot of agricultural technologies and information is given to farmers as if they experience climate change in the same way and it affects them in the same way. However, climate variability and climate change outcomes are different based on gender, and this is an important finding.
From the farmers’ experiences of climate variability, the change in climate that they have noticed is that the rainy season starts later and then ends earlier than before. Instead of starting in October, it starts in December, and instead of stopping in May, it ends in March. There is a much shorter rainy season. Farmers are dependent on rain to decide when to plant their crops, and so the droughts are problematic as they result in them having to replant their crops. Women and men farmers experience this same increase in climate variability, however they are affected differently.

How to use

Need to take time to understand the local context and the community. You cannot generalise that each community will be similar, as each area is very different. Need to understand how the people in that community really do things.
Need to stop putting so much pressure on short-term results, as this can force practitioners to exaggerate the benefits. You require more time if you want farmers to change their practices and adopt climate-smart technologies. It is important to focus on the long-term results, for example over 5 years.
Often farmers are provided with perverse incentives that they will not want to refuse, such as stating they will receive a lot of money if they adopt climate-smart agriculture. However, these incentives do not result in real change. For example, the farmers will have a small area for demonstration, to show the researchers they are implementing the new measures in order to receive the benefits, but they will then continue their usual practices on the rest of their land. There is also a similar problem with research. These perverse incentives should be avoided.
For development agencies, they need to fund based on local needs and local priorities, rather than just their own priorities. For example, in Zambia maize production is very important but instead the funding is for climate-smart agriculture. Development agencies needs to pay more attention to the local priorities.
For the Farmers’ Unions, small farmers need to have a greater voice. It is the big farmers that have a voice in the union. Therefore, the unions don’t really look at how the very poor farmers don’t even have anything to market. They need not just focus on one crop or one type of commodity, and instead look at all the members, and give a voice to the poorest of their members.

Want to read the full paper? It is available open access

Bridget Bwalya Umar (2021) Adapting to Climate Change Through Conservation Agriculture: A Gendered Analysis of Eastern Zambia, Frontiers in Sustainable Food System. 5:748300. 

About this research

This research was funded by an external organisation, but detail has not been provided.

Recommended for

UN Sustainable Development Goals

This research contributes to the following SDGs

What it means

The outcomes of this climate variability for men and women are different because of their gender roles and their access to resources. For example, men are considered as heads of the households, and so are the ones who are supposed to have income and control of the money. Hence, men tend to grow cash crops, hire themselves out as labour, and do the selling. Whereas the women tend to focus on food crops. As a result of growing different crops, when there are problems with the rain, the men and women are affected differently. The men also usually have more resources than women, meaning they are more resilient to extreme climate events.

It is important that there is gender responsive research. When asking the women about the problems the men were having, the problems they listed would be very different to the problems the men stated they were actually having. The same was true when asking men about the problems women were having – eg. the women would talk about how the main problem for the men is the death of their cattle and goats. However, the men would instead be talking about how they must move further from home to find water for the livestock. It is important to identify these nuances, and pay attention to both the men and women, and also look at the small differences because they do matter.


Data was collected from 33 focus group discussions and household surveys from 761 households in 11 chiefdoms namely Chikomeni, Chikube, Jumbe, Kalindawalo, Kapatamoyo, Mban’gombe, Mpamba, Mpezeni, Mumbi, Ndake and Nsefu.

The focus group discussants were initially separated into single gender groups, men and women. The groups were combined in a plenary session and asked to present summaries of their group deliberations. Two stage probability sampling was done to select survey respondents.

The recordings of the focus group discussions were transcribed into English. They were then analysed using thematic analysis method with the aid of the qualitative analysis software QDA Miner 4.0 (Provalis Research, 2011). The quantitative data was analysed using MINITAB 18 (MINITAB, 2017) to test for differences in household sizes and age between male and female-headed households using Two-Independent sample T-Test; to test for differences in household size among the six study districts, livestock and implement ownership using ANOVA; differences in proportions between male and female respondents using two-sample Z-proportions test. All the analyses were conducted at 5% level of significance.

However, as with all research and data collection in these agricultural areas, the data is not always entirely accurate or reliable because the farmers and communities give the answers they know will result in them receiving the material benefits and incentives that come with participation in these development programs. They often downplay their financial position and also exaggerate the benefits the program is having so that the projects continue and they continue to receive access to technologies, imports and training.


Climate variability
Use the farmer’s definition: climate has changed when there is enough variability that results in the farmer making a difference to how they traditionally do things.
Gender responsive research
Research that pays attention to the differences between gender groups, for example men, women, girls and boys.

Let your research make a social impact

Jasmyn Spanswick prepared this research following an interview with Dr Bridget Bwalya Umar.