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Climate change and food systems: the role of women

Africa has approximately thirty-three million small farms, representing eighty percent of all farms in the region.

Majority of Africa’s smallholder farmers are women localised in rural areas of the region. The world is now facing a new era of climate change and the impacts are already being felt most by smallholder women farmers. It is now widely acknowledged that climate change impacts will not be gender neutral. 

Little is known about the myriads of interactions between climate variability and food systems and gender. Gender as a social dimension of climate change has been overlooked from local to global climate action agendas. It is critical to integrate gender in agri-climate plans especially in the context of African agriculture system. 

Climatic stresses on agriculture present formidable food security and livelihood challenges. Escalating global effects of climate change are likely to increase food insecurity in vulnerable areas of Africa. Women play a pivotal role in the three components of food security: food availability, food access and food utilization. Men also play a crucial role in food production, although they face far fewer constraints than women. 

Men are more likely to have access to productive resources such as land, credit and extension services. In cases of crop failure due to harsh climatic conditions, culture often makes it easier for men to leave their farms in search of employment elsewhere, leaving women behind to struggle to feed their families and make ends meet. 

In many cases, women have diminished assets and resources to help them plan for and potentially avert the next crisis. Despite significant strides in addressing gender inequalities over the years, rural women are still among the most marginalized groups in society and their voices are drowned in cultural contexts that favour the other gender. 

How can we change the narrative and make climate action holistic? 

Gender equality and equity are fundamental human rights, it is about time we discard the systemic cultural and legal barriers that constrain women from making even more contributions to climate action agenda. Empowerment of girls and women is the critical first step for agricultural development and food security in the African context. 

There is a strong economic rationale for this - if women farmers were given the same access to resources as men, women agricultural yields could increase considerably. Similarly, it is essential to ensure active participation of women in high-level decision making and in establishing sector policies and programs, whether at the local, national or international level, so that their needs are considered and everyone can benefit from their contributions.

 

Photo credit: Alesia Ofori