African women to play crucial role in fighting climate change

60 per cent of women in sub-Saharan Africa are engaged in agriculture, which means they have a crucial role to play in helping the continent prepare for the impact of climate change.

While the UN climate talks in Paris at the end of last year were considered a historic breakthrough, they fell short in one major respect: they hardly touched on how women can participate in actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, argues Sophia Huyer, the gender and social inclusion research leader at the CGIAR Research Program for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

According to Huyer, women have a crucial role to play helping their countries prepare for extreme weather events. This is especially the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60 per cent of women are engaged in agriculture. It also happens to be one of the regions that will be hardest hit by climate change – and one of the least prepared.

The participation and active engagement of women is key if the region is to transform its agricultural practices to withstand climate change. For instance, as women are often responsible for feeding their families, they are in the best position to assess which new drought- and heat-resistant crop varieties are best suited to their communities in terms of cooking time, taste or ease of harvesting.

Women also have a unique insight that can fuel local innovations. In Honduras, for example, women designed a coffee agroforestry system where trees fruit at the same time as the coffee crop, allowing families with distant farms to relocate en mass to harvest all crops at the same time, explains Huyer.

They were also involved in re-designing an eco-stove so that it required up to 50 per cent less firewood. As Huyer writes, not only did this mean they had to leave the home less to collect fire wood, the redesigned stove also emitted significantly less carbon monoxide.

“Women should not be considered passive victims of climate change,” argues Huyer. “This International Women’s Day, let us recognise what a powerful role they can play as partners in climate adaptation, and in securing our future food supply.


Image credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

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