Monday, November 28, 2011

Chapter 3 Creating A Climate For Change

The KAZA Park: A Regional Response to Climate Change

This is a land of wilderness where a million vulnerable people farm on marginal land, exposed to the climactic variability that is a hallmark of Climate Change.  It is also elephant territory. An estimated 140,000 elephants, more than a third of Africa’s remaining population, call this area home. 

Chobe National Park in Botswana is expected to be one of the "seed" parks for a grand plan of conservation and social upliftment that will help southern Africa deal with the effects of climate change through regional water management and a single management plan based on natural systems.

Assisted by the South African Peace Parks Foundation, the five African countries of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, agreed in August 2011 to create the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. This not only allows the elephants to roam free across borders, but creates a framework to protect and share their precious water resources. The Kaza, it is called, is 29 million hectares, an area about the size of Italy. 

Werner Myburgh is the chief executive director of the Peace Parks Foundation, sitting at their offices far away in Stellenbosch South Africa, he explains of this ambitious project.
“One of the big objectives of the Peace Parks Foundation is to facilitate the process where you look at the management of integrated ecosystems across international boundaries.”

The Foundation is a facilitator for a dialogue between all of the stakeholders in the region.
“So we help governments in each of those countries initiate the process where you bring together private sector, communities and government around one table and say, well what do you think is the future of this area?”

This integrated approach to conservation is vital for semi arid countries facing the combined challenges of food and water security in a time of a changing climate. It is also vital for protecting the migration routes of the  wildlife, and both of these elements are essential for creating sustainable livelihoods in the area.

One of the pillars of the KAZA project is the official protection of two rivers, the Zambezi and the Kavango.  Dr. Anthony Turton is a South African Hydrologist specializing in water resource management in the Kaza area. “The former colonial powers used rivers as borders, whereas the previous, precolonial dispensation used rivers as a means of transport, as a means of connecting people.”

Africa inherited the borders that were created during the colonial area, but the Kaza will see the precolonial values of rivers restored, and will help secure these two great watersheds from the ravages of climate change, deforestation and overconsumption.   Water is the key not only to life, but prosperity as well, and the Kaza plan and researchers like Dr. Turton are helping shape the future of this precious resource.

Turton literally wrote the book on the Okavango Delta's water system.  He sees water, ecosystems, development and economies inextricably linked together. “If our national economy is a wholey owned subsidiary of our national hydrology, then our global economy is a wholey owned subsidiary of our global ecosystem. So ecosystems matter because actually this is the life support system provider for planet earth.”

This is the area of Southern Africa that will most likely see the largest effects of climate change, according to climate modeler Francois Engelbrecht of South Africa’s Center for Industrial and Scientific Research. “So both of these river catchments are unfortunately located right in the subtropics. That is specifially the area of Southern Africa that is projected to dry the most. It is also the region of southern Africa that is projected to warm very rapidly and these are absolutely drastic rises in the surface temperature. “

The area is already experiencing climactic changes that are making farming more difficult.  Matshelu "Max" Thokabotshabelo sits under a jackleberry tree deep in the Okavango, keeping out of the burning noon sunshine.  "Before, people here could rely on farming, but now they can’t because the rainfall here is more variable”. He is a community game guide from the Etsa community in the north west of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.  Here many young Botswanans are turning to tourism as farming becomes more difficult.

He knows about the Kaza Park plan and he wants it to help protect the waters that flow from Angola, through Namibia and into the the unique waters system of the Okavango.  “It’s very important that we implement the Kaza plan, so that we can try and manage our water resource here, thereby sustaining the Okavango Delta.”

Community conservation systems like the Jakotsha Trust where Max works as a guide are being used to guide the creation the Kaza.  The Kaza plan is not just about widllife and conservation, it seeks to include communities and rural farmers in the overall land use plan.

The area has low land fertility, poor soils, and increasingly variable rainfall.  With Climate Change making farming a losing proposition, everyone involved hopes that the creation of the Kaza will bring more visitors.  The tourism industry is already the biggest employer in the area,  and in this way it’s possible to bring jobs, training and a new future to the nearly 1 million people who live in and around the boundaries of this vast park. 

The success of the tourism industry is dependent upon the conservation of the wild herds that roam this area. By creating financially beneficial alternatives to farming, the Kaza plan creates an appropriate whole system approach to sustainable land use.

Victoria Falls is the park’s centerpiece.  Here the Zambezi River flows into the Batoka Gorge, along the border with Zimbabwe and Zambia, through Mozambique and into the Indian Ocean.  The falling waters will take months to get there, and on their way they will sustain millions of people.  As this region warms up and dries out, the very lives of the many people who rely on these two great rivers is in the balance, but Turton believes the Kaza Plan will help secure a better future for the people here.
“One of the important things that the Kaza type thinking will bring about is a reinforcing of the human rights of those very marginalized groups by the emergence of a transboundary management of natural resources such as water, such as landscapes.”

These forward thinking ideas in transboundary management are being accepted and understood on a regional level here in Southern Africa as it starts to face the reality of a changing climate. As the plan evolves to take advantage of the realities on the ground, the elephants have already started to expand their range into the new areas of the park, taking advantage of new water sources in Angola when rains are plantiful, or keeping close to the riverine highways in Botswana when rains are scarce, a living example of how to take advantage of a variable climate.

Chapter 2 Creating A Climate For Change

Gobabeb Training and Research Center:  Science In The Sand

It is morning in the shifting sands of the Namib Desert, and the little laceritid lizard, Meroles anchietae is out looking for his breakfast of seeds and insects. This reptile is perfectly adapted to the scorching days of one of the worlds most variable ecosystems.  Dancing like a child on a hot beach this local lizard, found nowhere else in the world, cools its alternate feet in the wind allowing for a few more minutes of foraging and breeding before it is forced to dive under the sand and escape the mid-day sun.

Miya Kabajani, a young Namibian researcher working on the long term monitoring program  at Gobabeb Research Center studies how the animals and plants have adapted to this variable climate, and what lessons they may teach us about how we can adapt to climate change.

Watch the film:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chapter 1 Creating A Climate For Change

Part of the four-part video series about Climate Change in Southern Africa, one of the areas of the world we are already seeing large changes in climactic conditions and where we are projected to see double the warming of the rest of the planet. 

The video, part of the Open Society Fellowship I am working on, follows an exciting project in the striking Baviaanskloof mountains of South Africa, where a new type of collaboration between all the stakeholders of this damaged landscape have come together to help restore it, and in the process created a model of how we can survive and thrive in a warming world.

Jeffrey Barbee


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back From The Wild

Eight days ago we were far in the north of Zambia in the miombo woodlands and farmlands meeting with farmers and the Conservation Farming Unit.  Over the last eight days we made our way south, back through the Kazungula ferry at the heart of the new KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area and south to Johannesburg.  With the trip done, this week we have been conducting the final interviews with climate scientists and water specialists here and now we start the editing process. 

In the midst of this, we have been selecting the images for the exhibition for the official launch of the project on the 2nd of December at the Corner Cafe in Durban and I am delighted to invite any readers of this blog who may be at the conference to come and enjoy a sustainable dinner, see the images of southern Africa's climate and watch a private screening of the film. 

As part of this Open Society Fellowship, there will be a series of four short films screened on South Africa's ETV, the South African Mail and Guardian, and broadcast in the USA on both on television and online  through their website.  Global Post will also be hosting the films on their website, and links to these projects will be forthcoming as the films are finished over the next week. 

Herewith is a small selection of pictures from the last days of the trip as a photographic journal.  I would like to give a special "thank you!" to our dynamic team who helped make this project a success, as well as all the great people who helped us along our way.  I am indebted to them for their great assistance in what was a very difficult but rewarding fact-finding trip.
Jeffrey Barbee

A forest tree near Victoria Falls.  The Miombo Biome covered most of southern Africa, shielding the land from the sun, but with increased population, the forest has given way to fields and the region's need for fuel.

The rising full moon at Elephant Sands in Botswana

Elephant Sands, Botswana. "Where Elephants Rule"

The last sunset of the trip, in Botswana, before heading into Johannesburg.

A moon halo, also called a "moon dog" in the miombo woodlands of Zambia.

A young female Kudu tries to understand her reflection in my camera lens.

Conservation Agriculture, the fifth stage of conservation farming, near Lusaka, Zambia.

Elephants at daybreak at Elephant Sands, Botswana.  These young bulls pushed through the trees next to my bed, waking me up and getting me on my way south.

It's best not to ride the hippos at Maramba River Lodge in Zambia, the night before crossing into Botswana.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The termites are swarming around our campsite at the appropriately named Forest Inn on the road between Kapiri Mposhe and the Tanzanian border in Zambia’s northwest.  There is a termite in my shirt and I am battling to keep them away from my computer screen.  After the first solid rains of the season the termites crawl out of the ground and these females swarm, looking for a place to make a new colony.  This typically marks the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rains.  Lately however, as we have been learning today from conservation farmer Charles Mwanyambo, the rains have been less dependable.

“I switched to conservation farming because of Climate Change” he explains, sitting in his small holding near Chomwe village.  Conservation farming helps farmers adapt to Climate Change by diversifying their crops, retaining moisture in the soil, expanding the planting season, assisting root penetration and providing greater yields.

According to Jeremy Selby of the Zambian Conservation Farming Unit, the five principles of conservation farming are:

Minimal Soil Disturbance
Farmers plow only about ten percent of their field in tight rows, years after year.  This is much less work and help the land retain biomass and fertility.

Crop Rotation
By planting a legume that fixes nitrogen in the air every other year, farmers increase yields, reduce their need for expensive fertiliser and produce cash crops like peanuts which also improves rural diets.

Retain Crop Residues
Crop residues like maize stalks are laid down between rows to help the soil retain moisture and protect it from torrential rains storms, which have become more common with the climate changing here in Zambia.

Early Preparation of Fields
By preparing fields early, farmers are more likely to benefit from erratic rainfall, and allows them to plant on time.  Studies have shown that farmers can lose as much as 1 1/2 percent of their yield per day by delaying planting.

Conservation Agriculture
By inter-cropping fields with leguminous trees, crops benefit from shading, extra nitrogen, and reduced pests and weeds.  The trees chosen are Zambian in origin and sprout leaves in the dry season, and produce seeds which are edible by both people and animals.

The Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) has been working in Zambia for 16 years, and works in a public private partnership with the Zambian Government’s Department of Agriculture.  Selby believes that conservation agriculture is partly responsible for the success of Zambia in becoming a net food exporter for the last five years.

Conservation farming can be employed on large and small farms in any region of the world.  Everyone can benefit from this farming technology that has had such a huge impact here in Zambia. Hammer Simwinga, a Goldman Environmental Prize winner who runs The Foundation for Wildlife and Habitat Conservation in Mpika agrees that Zambia has something to teach the world about living sustainably with nature, and that conservation farming can help Africans adapt to Climate Change.

Tomorrow we are heading south, and tonight, while we listen to the sounds of the cicadas and the crickets interspersed with the trucks on the nearby road, I think of the connections in Africa along highways like this, and how goods are dispersed by the trucks passing by.  Zambia’s CFU has opened offices in Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other African countries, spreading information that has seen tens of thousands of Zambian farmers like Charles increase their crop yields and reduce their inputs, making them wealthier and more successful, even in the face of Climate Change.

Jeffrey Barbee
November 8, 2011
Northern Zambia

Jeff with Charles Mwanyambo at his conservation agriculture farm in northern Zambia.  He had a small pilot project going for a few years and has now converted his whole farm to conservation farming practices.
Trees from the Miombo Biome in northern Zambia are under threat from slash and burn agriculture.
The terrain of northern Zambia is a mixture of rocky outcrops like these and large plateaux covered in forest trees.
Much of the land that was cultivated historically has started to return to trees as people cut the old growth forest and new saplings like these have started to regrow.
Mutinondo Forest Reserve near Mpika, Zambia.  The reserve covers an important river catchment system for the Luangwa River.
Goldman Prize winner Hammer Simwinga with some of the children of Saloma Village.
Agnus Mumbi, 60, conservation farmer and chairwoman of the Mupimbishi Women's club at Saloma Village.
Hammer Simwinga showing how to harvest seed at the  Mupimbishi Women's club at Saloma Village.
A conservation farming plot near Livingston, Zambia. Conservation farming is being rolled in all districts of the country.
Fires set to clear fields or drive out wild animals burn uncontrolled in the Southern province of the country.
Elephants graze in the future KAZA park on the banks of the Maramba River, near Livingston Zambia
Elephants graze in the future KAZA park on the banks of the Maramba River, near Livingston Zambia.
Elephants graze in the future KAZA park on the banks of the Maramba River, near Livingston Zambia.
Charles Mwanyambo at his small farm near Chomwe village.  The Conservation Farming Unit hopes to have three thousand conservation farmers in the district.
Charles Mwanyambo at his small farm near Chomwe village.  The Conservation Farming Unit hopes to have three thousand conservation farmers in the district.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Congo DRC border with Zambia

On the road on the Congo DRC border with Zambia.  Its wet and feels far from home.  Had good interviews with conservation farmers yesterday.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Rains Have Come

Victoris Falls today, left, during the lowest time of the year.  Right, the same spot in June, 2011.  Seasonal variability in climate is normal, but if climate change affects this region in the future, the annual flood may not come. By managing this waterway across the countries' borders, millions of people who rely on the Zambezi River for their livelihood may look forward to a more certain future.
We have been traveling up from the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA).    This huge park, bigger than Italy, was signed into existence by the heads of five countries in August this year.  It will create a cross-border water management system that will help these countries develop their water resources sustainably, and help them adapt to inconsistent weather and climate change.  The rest of the world can learn from this type of cooperation and this segment of the documentary I am producing as part of this Open Society Fellowship looks at this grand project from the local community level to the project designers, and shows how it may not only help address climate change, but uplift communities and “creates a climate for change”, the theme behind this project. 

Today we are in Lusaka, Zambia, on our way to a small town in the northwest called Mpika.  It is drizzling outside the thatch roof, a change in the weather of the last two weeks which saw us struggling through 47 degree centigrade temperatures day after day.  With the thunder and lightning of last night it seems that at least on the central plateau of Zambia the rainy season has come again to southern Africa.  We have been following this seasonal variability closely, since the region is essentially in a drought for half the year and enjoys rainfall the rest of the time.  A big fear here is that with climate change, the rainy season may not come every year like it does now.  Already it’s much more sporadically timed than it was during the 20th century, and this puts rural farmers at great risk of hunger. 

So now we are on our way to Mpika to meet with Hammer Simwinga, a Goldman Prize winner who has help roll out a sustainable farming system around North Luangwa National Park that has changed the lives of thousands of farmers by diversifying their crops away from monoculture maize production and educating them to become custodians of their environment.  They have greater food security, and are much less prone to climate change events.  When Simwinga won the Goldman prize, I went up with writer Mike Wines to take pictures of him for the New York Times.  I was encouraged  by his low-key approach to development that works and is good for the environment.

We will be staying in the forest and living with a farming community who works with Simwinga’s project.  We will be in touch on our  satellite and upload a few updates from the road.

November 3, 2011