By Charles Mkoka
The undulating and green covered Nyika plateau has been a source of all year round waters flowing into rivers for use by down stream communities living on its bottom and beyond. Most of these communities are farmers and interestingly, it is women now breaking gender barriers to take Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) interventions, thanks to local and international partnerships to overcome climate related challenges as part of adaptation in a rapidly changing environment.
One of such remote areas is Ntchenachena in Rumphi district. It is the junction immediately past Phwezi Secondary School as one heads to Karonga that takes you to this rich agriculture area where diverse crops such as maize, groundnuts, coffee and beans are grown.
However, in recent years more drought tolerant crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes are also being cultivated on a large scale. This is according to Maria Botha, a retired school teacher and resident of Ntchenachena who is a member of Njati Women Group.
“In the late 80’s the rains were in abundance. But then the situation changed in the 1990s, due to short rainfall periods. This greatly affected agriculture productivity, leading to the reduction in beans and maize,” explains Maria Botha, 55-year-old retired teacher from Cham’mono village, Traditional Authority Malweni in the area.
Botha remarks are corroborated by another female famer in Ntchenachena, “Rains are unpredictable this time around, they sometimes start earlier and then disappear and vice versa. We also have problems of fall armyworms affecting maize. Some pests have resorted to destroying the cassava tuber underground. As such, we have opted for potatoes as they are more drought tolerant to enhance food security,” narrates Vera Msiska, a mother of four children from Mziliwande Village in the same area.
However, the lead farmer approach is playing a key role. The use of locally made manure, is helping to improve yields in infertile soils
Evidence of changing climate
There is compelling evidence that climate change is happening and is having negative impacts on societies, economies and environments. Africa, in particular is greatly affected as exposures and vulnerabilities are increasingly high while capacities to respond are very low.
Smallholder agriculture is the mainstay of most African countries and it is the sector most vulnerable to climate change. The agriculture sector is dominated by women farmers who account for over 80 percent of the continent’s food production.
Women and youth are highly vulnerable and are most likely to be disproportionately impacted by the adverse effects of climate change. Various reports including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that climate change will affect agriculture and food security, water, energy, health and also bring about frequent and severe climatic shocks that will disproportionately affect women because of their limited adaptive capacity and high levels of vulnerability.
Gender in tackling climate change
Recognizing the gender dimension of climate change impacts on African agriculture, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA) NEPAD Planning with financial support from the Norwegian Government designed a five-year programme known as ‘Gender Climate Change and Agriculture Support Programme (GCCASP).
The goal of GCCASP is to achieve an effective and equitable participation of African women smallholder farmers, youth and other vulnerable groups in climate-smart agricultural practices.
Even in the difficult conditions that they work, women contribute 80 percent of the food we consume in our households on the continent. True that they use these resources to support their families so that brings social cohesion in our communities and countries says Estherine Fotabong, Director of Programme Coordination and Implementation at AUDA – NEPAD.
It is really important adds Fotabong that countries give particular attention to policies that favour women, such as policies that make it easier to form women cooperatives. According to Fotabong AUDA – NEPAD programmes try to address women obstacles to prosperity. These include land ownership, particularly for smallholder farmers, access to finance, access to technologies to take up CSA techniques.
“So through our GCCASP, we hope to reach a significant number of households and women farmers to contribute to the target. Furthermore, through our Climate Fund programme, we hope to continue to finance grassroots initiatives for the 2025 target. It is our belief that government themselves will put in place investments that will support farmers in their countries to ensure they take on board interventions on CSA so they withstand and cushion shocks brought about by climate variability,” Fotabong said in an interview during 2ndCSA platform held in Nairobi, Kenya.
GCCASP intends to benefit 50,000 women farmers in Malawi. To achieve implementation at the ground level, GCCASP will provide implementation support in the areas of closing policy and institutional gaps, building the capacities of women smallholder farmers, the creation and strengthening of women platforms and investing in up-scaling of successful and innovative practices.
AUDA – NEPAD is working in partnership with the Civil Society Network on Climate Change (CISONECC) and the line Ministry of Gender, Children and Women Affairs at Ntchenachena and Chiweta to deliver on these practices.
“Women should be at the center of designing and implementing interventions aimed at building community resilience to impacts of climate change. Women-led climate change solutions should therefore be respected and promoted,” said Julius Ng'oma, National Coordinator of CISONECC.
Scaled up technologies for women
It is quite evident that women are often neglected in most investments as compared to men. However, with financial support from the Government of Ireland through Irish Aid in Malawi, a seed systems project – Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP) puts women high as a priority in terms of participation.
According to theInternational Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), MSIDP Project Manager, Felix Sichali the project aims to improve legume and cereal seed systems and complementary agricultural innovations to catalyse productivity improvement and associated social benefits of improved food, nutrition and income security to smallholder farmers of Malawi. The target crops are common bean, groundnut, pigeon pea, sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet and rice.
“As part of the project’s deliberate strategy, we target to reach out to a minimum of 50 percent women representation with our package of benefits. In Rumphi both Ntchenachena and Chiweta, Extension Planning Areas, we have “all women” groups. Such is also the case at Phalula in Balaka district besides other parts of the country where we work, there are all women groups prevalent there. By the end of the project’s current five years’ implementation phase that run from 2016 to 2021, we will reach out to a total 200,000 beneficiaries,” explains Sichali in an interview.
Sichali explained the project involved local community set-up structures supported through the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development through the Department of Agriculture Extension Services.
“Most importantly, we encourage that such groups should have similar needs and eager to explore interventions that can improve their livelihoods. In line with the Irish new policy further supported by ICRISAT’s policy on gender in as far women participation in the agricultural value chain is concerned,” Sichali emphasized the gender dimension to the project.
Coincidentally, all women groups working with ICRISAT on this initiative are affiliates to the Coalition of Women Farmers in Malawi (COWFA). According to COWFA President, Ellen Matupi other than taking part in CSA interventions and seed multiplication. Women in Nchenachena are being trained in leaflets circles to overcome illiteracy.
“Once knowledgeable it helps them to collectively bargain for their produce at markets as part of the agriculture value chain. But far more important are the skills being imparted for them to adapt and remain resilient in a changing environment,” Matupi explained on the sidelines of a field visit at Chiweta EPA.
A Pea farmer and chair of Tiyezge Club, Luwuchi are Chiweta EPA Joyce Munthali is a lead farmer. Trained at Chitedze Research Station on seed multiplication and her field into model where others follower farmers are learning how to grow crops using CSA around the area.
Joshua Luhana, Rumphi District Gender and Social Welfare Officer hinted the need for more women participation and active voice in as far CSA is concerned. We need more women to access and control land as it is an asset in the agricultural value chain. It is only after this empowerment in technology adoption that they can also change their lives, their families and communities.
During a recent communication and advocacy platform held in April this year NEPAD Chief Executive Officer Ibrahim Mayaki warned that, “if women are not empowered, Africa in 2050 will be in chaotic situation.”
Leaving women behind will not only make resilience a challenge to adapt to climate change. But it will further create barriers for Africa to achieve both the Sustainable Development Goals of reducing hunger and poverty including the vision for a prosperous come the year 2063.