The ‘Forgotten’ Gender in the Fight Against Climate Change in Africa: How Climate-Smart Agriculture is Empowering Women in Zambia

When it comes to climate change, Africa is so often the ‘forgotten continent’ for it receives less than 3% of global climate finance, however, 30 out of the 40 most climate-vulnerable countries in the world are in Africa. The continent has around 17% of the world’s population but produces less than 4% of global emissions, and yet, extreme weather events are growing in both frequency and severity with an alarming impact on food security, biodiversity loss, and revealing gender inequalities.

So what does this mean for the women of Africa?

Too often women bear the hardest brunt of economic disparities, of social injustices, and feature marginally in policy and decision making globally. There is no exception when it comes to the harsh realities that climate change is having on the poorest regions across Africa.

With the poverty rate in rural Zambia at 78%, women and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable due to lower human capital accumulation. Financial, social, and cultural barriers often mean that women do not have the same access as men. Women lack access to resources and funding as their work tends to fall under the informal economy and unpaid home duties. Especially in rural parts of Africa, boys take precedent over girls in the rights to education, based on beliefs that girls should assume the role of home-maker and manual labourer in the fields, and when coupled with early marriages and a high rate of teenage pregnancy, girls tend to miss out on the same opportunities given to boys, which creates a gap from an early age.

Governments throughout sub-Sahara Africa (and Zambia is no exception!) are working hard to combat the gender disparities that act as debilitating factors to break the cycle of poverty that so many women are confined to, yet breaking belief systems laced in traditions going back centuries will not happen overnight and will take even longer still to foster change at a local level.

Access to education, health care facilities, and socio-economic initiatives are key to development, however, they pale in comparison to food security. When a household is food insecure it is all-consuming.  It impacts the family at the most basic level of a human’s requirements to survive and makes anything beyond securing basic nutrition seem inconceivable. Chronic food insecurity and the pressure and trauma imposed by it transcends into all aspects of a family’s life and creates barriers on a physical, mental, financial, and social level.

Climate-Smart Agriculture is key to addressing the issue of food insecurity in Africa.

Climate-Smart Agriculture is based on the interrelated principles of minimal soil disturbance (a critical break from traditional tillage practices such as ploughing, which turns over the whole surface area of a field – increasing wind and rain borne soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and decreasing surface water capture and leading to high evaporation rates), permanent soil covers with living or post-harvest crop residue cover, and crop diversification through rotation or intercropping. It helps farmers to maintain and boost yields and increase profits while reversing land degradation, protecting the environment, and responding to growing challenges of climate change.  Minimal Tillage also enables a farmer to plant with the first heavy planting rains – a critical advantage.  Every day a farmer is late planting she or he loses up to 1.8-2% of their end yield.  This loss is not recoverable irrespective of the quality and volume of inputs used to nourish the crop. 

An estimated 60% of Zambia’s population is dependent on subsistence farming, and it is estimated that subsistence farming accounts for 48% of the World’s deforestation. Traditional methods of ‘slash and burn’ in Zambia, which drives the progressive clearing of land over time is incredibly damaging for the environment. While the use of outdated tillage methods is labor-intensive and time-consuming for the farmers. Women are the primary producers and processors of food in Africa, but lack of access to land and inputs means that they achieve lower agricultural yields and experience greater insecurity of income than men, impacting a huge 70% of women across Africa (because 70% of African women living across Africa are subsistence farmers according to the Africa Gender Index Report). Yet, despite well over half of women in Africa being involved in the agriculture sector, the Index Report found that women farmers in Africa receive only 5% of agricultural extension services. Women run small agribusinesses in the informal sector but find it hard to invest and grow their businesses. In more remote areas, African women are often trapped in subsistence or near subsistence farming and spend long hours each day doing unpaid domestic chores, often helped by girls. These are the women and families who are in danger of being left behind and trapped in intergenerational poverty, whilst other parts of society reap the benefits of development.

Climate-Smart Agriculture minimizes tillage, follows the methods of crop rotation, and ultimately reduces time, labour, and the wear and tear of animals and machines substantially. From a purely output vs input standpoint, the most obvious and immediate result of Climate Smart Agriculture is an increased yield using less land. In the 2020/21 farming season maize grain yields improved to 4.9tons/ha against the baseline of 1.8tons/ha amongst the lead farmers that we are working with. Practicing this method of conservation farming also sees the longer-term benefits of improved soil nutrition and an increased soil organic pool.

Beyond the most immediate rewards, having to spend such substantially fewer hours on farming, yet producing a much higher yield (enough so that there is surplus to sell and trade) is changing lives. Especially those of women. Food security lifts the barriers put in place by chronic hunger while having a surplus of crops opens up a whole new area of trade and business opportunities. For labour-strapped households, the minimal tillage land preparation operation is spread over the post-harvest period up to those first heavy planting rains. This division of labour over the season is an important benefit for female-led households and or families who are caring for sick and infant family members.

Training Lead Female Farmers in Climate-Smart Agriculture allows women to join the modernization of agriculture in Africa.

Across Africa, women generally have less access to credit than men, which is often due to a lack of assets to use as collateral and is a major barrier to investment. According to the results of the Index Report, the access to credit gender gap is 73.4%, and the ownership of a house and/or a land gender gap is an estimated 22.9%. Lack of finance for women farmers often keeps women trapped in poverty and subsistence farming – particularly in the face of climate impacts. By equipping women with the knowledge to farm smart it gives women the training and confidence to be decision-makers in cash crop agriculture. Empowering women gives them better resources and access to inputs and technologies, credit access, and revenue streams that give them greater opportunities to grow businesses, connect with supply chains, and eventually join the formal economy, accessing larger scale loans and business ventures. This creates a knock-on effect in terms of the value being placed on a girl’s education, which according to UNICEF – when more girls remain in education there is a significant drop in teen pregnancies and early marriages – helping to break the inequalities which begin at childhood.

In an effort to address household food insecurity, BCP continues to support the Ministries of Labour and Agriculture and Communities across Rufunsa, Nyimba, Lusangazi, Mambwe, and Lumezi Districts to implement Climate-Smart Agriculture technologies. Together, we currently support 376 Lead Farmers and have a wider reach of 9,400 Follower Farmers. Of those 376 Lead Farmers, 70 are women.

We know that we need to do more.

This is just the start, in 2022 we plan to scale our conservation farming initiative and to host wide-reaching Open Days, where we will encourage women specifically to attend to learn more about the benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture, in our bid to help close the gender gap.

Meet Some of the Women Farming Smart

“Look at my garden! Look at how beautiful it has grown. It has tomato, onion, cabbage, and rape. The way my family lives now is very different to before I know how to grow so many different vegetables in my small space. I am making money, real money by selling my vegetables and I am very proud and happy to be doing this!”

Royce Sakala, Kasumba Village, Bunda Bunda Chiefdom.

“This new method of farming means that I can prepare my fields and plant in advance as we wait for rainfall. Then our maize grows very fast compared to those who plough with cattle. I can put my focus on other things and not be worrying all the time about the rains coming or not, or when to plant because I am already prepared.  I have learned so much about climate change also, and I want to do what I can to help our planet and my family both through conservation farming methods”.

Memory Kalaingelu, Musanshika Village, Bunda Bunda Chiefdom.

“Last year was my first year in my farming history to have grown soya beans and from 1 lima I managed to harvest 10x50kg bags of soya bean, which gave me K5000.00.

This was the largest amount of money I have ever realized in a season in my whole farming life! This surplus meant that I could send my children to school, fully equipped without worrying if I could maintain the upkeep of fees throughout the year.”

Marvis Mwanza, January Village in Luembe Chiefdom.

“Sustainable beekeeping is much better than charcoal production. It was not good for the forests but I had to feed my family. Each Household was given 10 beehives to hang in the forest. From the sale of honey, we have seen significant results, I have paid school fees, invested in school uniforms, blankets, groceries, and fertilizer. This way I can provide for my family with what we need and leave the forests untouched”.

Trisa Makala, Chikobeni Village, Bunda Bunda Chiefdom.

“My garden is flourishing since I took part in the horticulture training provided by BCP. The treadle pump has cut the time that it takes to water my garden by half. It means I am much more efficient and can grow more fruit and vegetables, allowing me to ensure food security for my family and sell the surplus at the market to help pay school fees for my children. You know, as a parent that’s what I want – to be able to feed and educate my children.”

Gloria Daka Mbuzi, Shikabeta Chiefdom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *