Climate & Agriculture

Plateau and valley climates

Although Zambia lies within the tropics, the climate is tempered by its high altitude. Most of the land is part of an undulating plateau which runs like a backbone through the African continent.

Under the tree

The tree

In this video… Florence Phiri (SOS Children's National Director in Zambia) talks about a tree where mothers traditionally sit with their children to tell them stories shaded from the sun.

With typical altitudes of 1,000–1,600 metres, the resulting cooler temperatures make for a comfortable climate.

But in the valleys of the Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa and Luapula rivers (below 500 metres), hotter weather can be more oppressive. Here, temperatures in October can reach more than 45°C in the shade.

A land of three seasons

Zambia’s seasons fall broadly into three periods:

Rainy season (December–April): During these months it is warm and wet, with temperatures in Lusaka generally in the low 20s°C. Most yearly rainfall occurs at this time. But sunshine is still frequent – Lusaka sees around five hours per day in January.

Cool dry season (May–August): In the middle months of the year, temperatures drop, averaging around 16°C in Lusaka. July is usually the coldest month, with clear skies at night giving the occasional ground frost, even in the valleys.

A woman working in a fieldHot dry season (Sept–November): Just two months separate the coldest month (July), from the hottest (October) as temperatures rise rapidly and reach into the 30s°C. High humidity can make this one of the least comfortable times of the year. The first rains clear the air and wash away the dust.

Reliant on the rain

Zambia’s soils are generally poor, though the favourable climate allows for a range of crops.

Improving child nutrition

Increasingly, farmers are choosing crops which have higher levels of essential nutrients. An orange maize/corn variety is being grown in Zambia which has high levels of beta-carotene (also be found in carrots). This is converted by the body into Vitamin A, which is essential for children to develop a healthy immune system.

Crops grown for domestic consumption include maize, tobacco and groundnuts/ peanuts.Vegetables such a cassava and sweet potatoes and fruits are often cultivated, as is sugar cane for both local and export markets. Other agricultural exports include tobacco, cotton and maize.

Much of Zambia’s farming remains subsistence-style, relying on seasonal rains. Efforts are being made to increase yields by introducing techniques such as crop rotation and inter-cropping (where two different crops share the same land). Soil-improving crops such as velvet beans and hemp are also being promoted.

Zambian communities have been affected by unpredictable weather patterns over the last decade. The Zambezi used to flood the plains in late March or early April, but the water flows of the river have become less regular in pattern and more extreme. Floods in 2007 and in 2009 caused devastation to crops along the Zambezi River basin.