Throughout Gender Equality Week, CCIC will highlight the work that some of our members are doing to advance gender equality. This blog post was written by Catherine Boyce, Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), and presents their Climate-Smart Agriculture Guides which won the UN Global Climate Action Award this past week.

Can you imagine toiling all day in the heat; getting your children to help you in the fields, and still not growing enough to feed your family and earn a living? This is a reality today for millions of women across rural Africa who shoulder the burden of farming to feed their families but who are hit by the double whammy of a female resource deficit and the impact of climate change.

On the female resource deficit – women farmers are typically 20-30% less productive than men. This is not because they work less hard – in fact they work longer hours on average. However, they don’t have access to the same assets – land and water – training, finance, information services and quality inputs such as seeds that male farmers do. Address that inequality and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that as many as 150 million people will be lifted out of hunger worldwide.

Meanwhile, however, agricultural productivity is diminishing and under further threat in the face of more extreme weather which manifests as droughts, floods and the recent, devastating Cyclones Idai and Kenneth; destroying lives and livelihoods. For communities in rural Africa, climate change is not a theoretical concept or a risk that lies many  years in the future. It’s happening now. Rural African girls and women contribute negligibly to greenhouse emissions but are the first to feel the effects of climate change as they struggle to cultivate the land to produce enough to feed their families. They are particularly vulnerable to hunger, early marriage and violence in the context of resource scarcity.

We need a global response to this global threat. Like so many others, I’ve been tremendously inspired by young people’s action on climate change. Much of that action is taking place in sub-Saharan Africa, headed by young women living in some of the poorest rural communities. They are leading grassroots community action to safeguard food cultivation in the face of climate change, to manage water resources, and to protect trees and soil quality.

The Campaign for Female Education alumnae network – CAMA – is a movement of 140,000 educated young African women. Together they are spearheading action on climate change. This week they received the UN Global Climate Action Award in recognition of the effectiveness and potential for scale of CAMA’s climate action. Recipients of this UN Award represent some of the most practical, scalable and replicable examples of what people, businesses, governments and industries are doing to tackle climate change.

I first met Annie N’gandu in Zambia in 2008 when she was helping to run a leadership and enterprise initiative for other recent school graduates. Her positivity belies the tragedy of her childhood; she was orphaned at a young age and poverty meant that she missed many years of education. With support from the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), however, Annie was trained in entrepreneurship and launched and grew a successful agricultural business. For the last five years, Annie has been championing climate-smart agriculture in rural Zambia:

“I explain the spacing of maize and beets for example, so that they grow well and how to make compost from manure. I teach people how to build a clean cook stove, which uses less wood and produces less smoke. I also train people on waste management. Now they recycle or sell waste for money.” 

Annie N’gandu, Agriculture Guide in Zambia

Annie has reached hundreds of other smallholders, young people and women’s groups with the skills they need to protect their farms from the more extreme weather that climate change has brought, and to improve productivity. She has won the confidence and support of local government agricultural officers, who invite her to train alongside them, and of traditional leaders, such as Chief Nkula who has been inspired to award a land grant of 300 hectares to cultivate a climate-smart demo farm. She’s also increased productivity on her own farm, provided a home for three abandoned children and supported more young people to go to school.

Annie isn’t alone in her climate leadership. From Eva Damasi who is building support for agroforestry in Tanzania to Clarah Zinyama in Zimbabwe who is working with mothers’ groups to boost the productivity of the smallholdings used to cultivate food for school meals; CAMA members are leading action on climate change across rural Africa.

These young women – known as Agricultural Guides – promote both traditional and innovative techniques for climate-smart agriculture. They were supported to develop their skills by the Toronto-based Mastercard Foundation, and EARTH University in Costa Rica, who, together with CAMFED and CAMA, developed a tailored course in sustainable agriculture. Helping to shape the content, the women leaders ensured it would be relevant to the context they live and work in, and in keeping with indigenous traditions.

Clarah, for example, has re-introduced intercropping – growing two crops on the same plot of land – on her farm. It’s a technique formerly practised by her grandmother that reduces soil runoff, preserves soil nutrients and helps with pest management. She re-uses old plastic bottles for affordable drip irrigation, setting them in the soil with tiny holes in the cap to steadily release water. Clarah also trains community groups to construct simple solar dryers to preserve food and reduce waste.

The results are clear to see in increased yields, family nutrition and income. To date Annie, Clarah and Eva and a small team of CAMA Agricultural Guides have reached over 8,500 people across rural Africa with knowledge and techniques to build farming productivity and build resilience in the face of climate change. These include affordable methods of irrigation, crop-rotation, organic composting and mulching which improve soil nutrition and carbon storage, water management and productivity. They are raising awareness in their communities of waste management and how to build cleaner cook stoves from local resources which use less fuel and reduce further carbon emissions. The Agricultural Guides are seeing the results in improved yields and profits on their own farms, have increased standing in their communities and have created an average of four new paid jobs each.

They’re also helping girls to succeed in school and beyond. Last year, for example, CAMA members used their own resources to help over 700,000 children go to school. They help each other to navigate the transition from school and build fulfilling livelihoods, moving up the value chain and seeing agriculture as a business opportunity. When girls stay in school and women generate an income they can avoid early marriage, gain decision-making power and take control over their life choices. These are top priorities in their own right which also have positive climate effects. They result in a later age at marriage and smaller, healthier families and cumulatively reduce both population growth and greenhouse emissions.

As Annie, Clarah and Eve’s experience demonstrates, it’s critical that our global climate strategy builds the strength of vulnerable communities to adjust to the effects of climate change, while urgently reducing further greenhouse emissions. At the Campaign for Female Education we’re working to get more resources into the hands of these young women on the frontline of climate change. Clarah sums up what this week’s UN Global Climate Action Award means to her and her peers:

“We are so excited about this global recognition of CAMA’s leadership in climate-smart agriculture. As a network, we are developing and sharing expertise that ranges from better land management and tackling deforestation to the use of climate-smart crops, solar heating and traditional refrigeration techniques. Our network enables us to cascade our knowledge to farmers across numerous rural districts, helping to build resilience to climate shocks while improving productivity, reducing emissions, and nourishing school communities. This award celebrates what is possible when we all work together to tackle two of the most urgent issues of our time: girls’ exclusion from education, and climate change.”

Clarah Zinyama, Agriculture Guide in Zimbabwe

Let us all endeavour to match her activism on climate change and stand together on this global challenge.

Catherine Boyce

Catherine Boyce

Director of Enterprise Development, Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED)

For 25 years, the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) has united communities in a collective effort to secure the right to education for the most excluded girls, resulting in more than 3.3 million children receiving support to go to school across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana and Malawi.

As Director of Enterprise Development, Catherine works to connect young, educated women – members of the CAMFED alumnae network CAMA – to the resources and support they need to play a leading role for climate action, jobs and prosperity in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to joining CAMFED in 2008,

Catherine was a strategy consultant specialising in entrepreneurship. She studied history at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.