Advancing Local Ecological Knowledge-Based Practices for Climate Change Adaptation, Resilience-Building, and Sustainability in Agriculture: A Case Study of Central and Southern Zambia



Sophia University

Stephen Sakapaji is a Ph.D. holder in Global Environmental Studies. His research study areas are; Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation, and Resilience Building, Sustainability and Sustainable Development, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management, and Indigenous/local knowledge.


This research is about the understanding of the importance of local and indigenous knowledge systems in the climate change discourse for a better and effective adaptation that builds resilience and enhances the sustainability of the agriculture sector through innovative policies in a continously changing climate.

The purpose of the paper is to encourage policymakers not only to focus on scientific knowledge for adaptation to climate change but to bring in local and traditional knowledge. For generations and centuries, local and indigenous people have been using their knowledge to adapt to changes in their environment. These people should be used in policymaking, and their knowledge should be built upon and integrated with scientific knowledge to improve adaptation practices

The goal of this research is to advance the significant role that LEK adaption practices in the agriculture sector can play in enhancing adaptation, resilience-building, and sustainability with a case study of central and southern Zambia.

Key Findings

In the regions studied, the agricultural sector is greatly being impacted by climate change. Many climate-related issues are affecting the production of staple crops and the food security of the region. Using local/indigenous knowledge, farmers are striving to solve these climate related issues in their own ways. These include:
Changing weather affects the life cycles and behaviours of armyworms, which now come in large numbers and eat much of the crop. Eradicating them is not easy due to their numbers. Rather than relying on the government, local people are using their own traditional methods and medicines.
A long drought over 2018/19 was very impactful on crops- the people resorted to their old way of farming, planting crops next to long-rooted trees called Msango trees that can reach water deep in the soil. Experience and research have shown that crops that are grown near or under these trees tend to do well in drought spells as compared to those not grown near or under these trees.
In drought conditions, no-till farming techniques such as the digging of holes for planting rather than a complete disturbance of the soil help to conserve moisture in the soil and also plays a role in sequestering carbon in the soil.
Diversifying of income sources and crops is yet another effective adaptation practice that is being carried out in these regions. As climate change intensifies some crops will do well while others won't, this is why this practice has been seen to be an effective adaptation technique to a changing climate. in the event that climate change events make it harder to engage in farming some farmers have resorted to diversifying their income sources by engaging in other income-generating activities such as fishing and charcoal burning which has proven to help them cope with a changing climate.

How to use

Policymakers/stakeholders should engage everyone in climate change policy. Local people should be involved in policy formation to give their insights on how they are adapting and on what is affecting them the most. Policies not made from community consultation backfire or are ineffectual
Financial support should be directed to local people to assist them in their methods of agricultural adaptation to climate change
Resource allocation should always involve community consultation to ensure the resources go towards the people's priorities
Local and indigenous people should be given a platform to freely communicate their experiences, so that policy makers and researchers can better judge how they can help
With support from NGOs and governments, these techniques could be used on a larger scale. We know how climate change is affecting these people, and there are scientific methods being used for adaptation, but better adaptation methods could be devised by using local methods and building on them, climate change is constant and in time their current methods may not be effective, so they need to be improved upon in the long run, but these methods are proven to be viable and practical.

The full paper is not available open access

Sakapaji, Stephen Chitengi. (2021). ‘Advancing Local Ecological Knowledge-Based Practices for Climate Change Adaptation, Resilience-Building, and Sustainability in Agriculture: A Case Study of Central and Southern Zambia’. The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, 13(2), pp. 61-83. 

About this research

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

Recommended for

UN Sustainable Development Goals

This research contributes to the following SDGs

What it means

Above are only a few examples that communities in different regions have developed other adaptation techniques that they are using to adapt to climate shocks.

From the findings discussed and analysed in this study, it was concluded that many locally based practices that the local smallholder farmers are adopting and implementing are enhancing their resilience and adaptability capacity to climate change impacts to a greater extent.

As such, the researcher strongly recommends that more studies are needed to be carried out on LEK-based adaptive practices such as these as they have the potential to enhance the adaptability and resilience capacity of many vulnerable and poor local people in developing countries in a continuously changing climate.

Furthermore, the incorporation and integration of the identified LEK with scientific knowledge must be taken seriously by all stakeholders in developing countries as these have the potential to enhance the understanding of the nexus and benefits that exist between these two knowledge systems. Besides, the formulation of policies in developing countries that incorporates key aspects of LEK is imperative if we are to face climate impacts head-on.

This study has shown several adaptive practices that are being adopted and implemented by the local smallholder farmers. The effective ones include;
1. The use of the Msango (Faidherbia albida) trees during drought spells for cropping
2. Conservation tillage farming,
3. Use of local traditionally known medicinal trees to eradicate pests and diseases
4. Crop rotation and intercropping
5. Diversifying of crops and income sources.
These practices qualify as innovative and sustainable, and their adoption or integration into climate change adaptation programs and policy can be beneficial to the many smallholder farmers in Zambia and beyond.


This research study used a combination of community risk assessment tools and a range of participatory rural appraisal tools to create an engaged scholarship research paradigm and examine awareness of and capacities for climate change adaptation, resilience-building, and sustainable development.

Interviews were core to the data collection. This was supplemented by focus group discussions (FGD) and field observations (transect walks) with the local headmen and extension officers. Oates (2006) argues that a combination of research paradigms or techniques can be used if the research under study is not representative of one research paradigm, and the choice is well justified. Interviews were conducted with one-to-one interaction with the farmers using the questionnaire. Key stakeholders in the field of agriculture, environment, climate, and food security were also engaged in interviews to obtain their views, experiences, expertise, and opinions. The stakeholders targeted in the study were selected based on their skills, knowledge, and responsibility held in the community.

Purposive sampling was used for the selection of the participants. The targeted persons in this study were the rural indigenous smallholder farmers. Other participants in this study were the local indigenous leaders, extension officers, research staff, district agricultural coordinator (DACO), and NGOs found in the study locations. The sample size was 200 participants both male and female with the majority being female between the ages of 21 and 64.

However, this was a small scale study – was not able to compare/contrast between adaptive practices in other regions. Study participants did not include all demographics due to time/ funding constraints.


Resilience concept in agriculture
These are actions that are aimed at increasing the adaptive capacity of the agroecological system. They are aimed at enhancing the adaptive capacity of the agroecological system to moderate climate effects and to return to a healthy condition after a disturbance either through natural process or with minimal management interventions.
Sustainability of agriculture
Good farming practices that are environmentally and ecologically friendly and maintain fragile ecological systems today and for the future generations.
Indigenous/local knowledge adaptation techniques in agriculture
Techniques local and indigenous people use to adapt to climate change in agriculture. Indigenous knowledge- knowledge passed down through generations. Local knowledge- less regionally specific, known to people in a larger region.

Let your research make a social impact

Ben Levett prepared this research following an interview with Dr Stephen Chitengi Sakapaji.