To build resilience to climate change, help African women farmers

by Elias Ntungwe Ngalame | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 4 December 2015 16:43 GMT

Martha Mafa, a subsistence farmer, carries a bucket of maize on her head in Chivi, about 378km (235 miles) south-east of the capital Harare, April 1, 2012. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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Why are so many women still using nothing more than hoes?

“It is amazing that many women in Africa continue to use hoes to till the soil in their small-scale farms in communities in Africa in this age of technological advancement,” wondered Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chair of the African Union Commission, as she addressed officials at the launch of the African Renewable Energy Initiative at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris.

“We are calling on the president of the African Development Bank to ensure that funding for the purchase of such archaic working tools for women becomes history,’’ Zuma pleaded.

Instead, she said, women in rural communities need training on using modern tools, such as tractors, as well as more education on everything from the use of high-yielding seeds to better pest control measures.

African women need to be a key part of the fundamental changes toward resilience envisaged for vulnerable communities, officials at the negotiations said this week.

The ability of vulnerable communities – particularly women – to adapt to climate change has to be strengthened significantly in order to protect Africa’s food production and hold onto decades of development gains, officials say.

“Africa and its people are in the frontline and continue to suffer the impacts of climate change, especially in agriculture. The women who are most vulnerable to these effects are looking for new coping strategies and technologically adapted tools to improve on their production and livelihood,’ said Fatima Denton, co-ordinator for the African Climate Policy Centre of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Worsening droughts, floods and problems accessing water in Africa are making life for many farmers, including women, and depriving them and country economies of a solid economic footing, said Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank.

The good news is that the bank is planning to spend $300 million to boost the resilience of women in agriculture to climate change, announced Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the bank. Altogether the bank, starting in 2020, will spend $5 billion a year on climate change programmes, a tripling of its current spending, he said.

Help for women will happen through measures such as giving help to open small businesses, better access to land, providing irrigation schemes, and helping ensure dryland farms get better access to water, he said.

Micro-finance programmes in countries such as Cameroon, Malawi, Gambia are helping women open or improve businesses from fish smoking to textile shops, bank officials said.

"As climate impacts increase we see women and children virtually helpless. It is time we find lasting solutions to these challenges, “Adesina said at the U.N. climate talks in Paris.

"It is imperative that we strengthen resilience and build the adaptive capacities of women by providing financial support to agric-business initiatives,” he said.

‘Agriculture remains Africa’s economic main stay contributing significantly to the GDP of many countries. The success of the outcome of COP21 will not be obtained without any concrete action addressing issues of agriculture in Africa’’ he said.

President Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin said protecting and food production in Africa was important well beyond Africa’s borders.

 “The future of the world depends on Africa, the breadbasket with huge food production potential,” he said.

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To build resilience to climate change, help African women farmers

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