The scorching sun beat down on Masawo Mwanza’s parched fields in Zambia’s Southern Province. Cracks snaked across the dusty earth, a testament to the relentless drought gripping the region. “This year, the rains never came,” lamented Mwanza, his voice heavy with despair. “My maize crop is a write-off. We’ll be lucky to have enough to eat.”

Mwanza’s story is a stark illustration of the uneven hand El Niño, the cyclical climate phenomenon, has dealt Zambia. While the Southern Province battles crippling drought, the country’s northern reaches are experiencing the opposite extreme – heavy rainfall and flooding.

“El Niño presents a common challenge, but with a cruel twist,” explains Dr. Agnes Mwale, a climate scientist at the University of Zambia. “The south experiences reduced rainfall, while the north sees an abnormal increase. This year, it’s particularly severe.”

The consequences are dire. In the south, farmers like Mwanza face not only hunger but also a potential loss of income. “Our livelihoods depend on the land,” says Beatrice Tembo, a community leader. “Without a harvest, we’ll struggle to buy food and send our children to school.”

Meanwhile, in the north, the relentless downpours have caused rivers to overflow, inundating homes and farmland. “We’ve lost our crops to floods,” says Joseph Mulenga, a farmer in Luapula Province. “The fields are waterlogged, and there’s no way to replant now.”

The situation highlights the vulnerability of Zambia’s agricultural sector, heavily reliant on rain-fed subsistence farming. “This is a wake-up call,” says Agriculture Minister, Charles Phiri. “We need to invest in drought-resistant crops, irrigation systems, and early warning mechanisms.”

Experts point to the need for a multi-pronged approach. “Diversifying crops, promoting water conservation techniques, and strengthening national food reserves are crucial,” says Dr. Mwale. Collaboration is also key. “Sharing resources and knowledge between the north and south can help build resilience,” she adds.

As Zambia grapples with the contrasting effects of El Niño, the human cost is undeniable. The government has pledged support for affected communities, but the long-term solution lies in building a more climate-resilient agricultural system. For now, Mwanza and Mulenga, separated by hundreds of kilometers but united by the capricious hand of nature, can only hope for better days ahead.