Women critical to war against climate change

Somewhere in a research laboratory in the US, a scientist is sweating over calculations, trying to figure out how an increase in global temperature could affect mortality rates, crop yields and the local GDP.

At the other end of the globe in a village in Kwale, 12-year old Charo has to miss school for the fourth day this week, as she has to join her mother on a sweaty, five-kilometre trek to fetch the increasingly scarce but vital firewood.

The man of the house is an elder, and he has to join fellow elders once more at the Kiza cha Mvula–the rain prayer altar.

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The intractable problem of climate change is affecting the world in different ways, but the weakest people are suffering the most pain.

Discussions at the recent UN General Assembly were predominated by the subject of climate change, as various groups considered current responses in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 12 on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Recent research shows that climate change will hurt in many ways, but most ominously for the SDGs, it will exacerbate poverty and inequality. Over 70 per cent of the global population – most of them in Africa – are poor and their livelihoods are highly dependent on natural resources that are sensitive to climate variability.

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Real impact of climate change is already being felt. While productivity per acre is on the rise in most regions, it is only in Africa where yields are falling as soils become degraded due to intensity of farming and low use of technology.

The UN estimates that up to $300 billion per year will be required to deal with the effects of climate change in developing countries alone by 2030.

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During periods of drought and erratic rainfall, women in most of Africa must work harder to secure food, water and cooking fuel for their families, putting more pressure on girls within households, as they are often the first to be removed from school if firewood must be collected.

Lack of education and skills means that women are more likely to work in difficult conditions such as assembly-line type jobs, including in export processing zones, food processing and horticulture.

At the local level, women and girls take leading roles in agricultural production and as the procurers and consumers of water, cooking fuel and other household resources, they would be expected to be better-suited at finding solutions to prevent further degradation and adapt to the changing climate as they have vested interests in doing so.

Unfortunately, although they dominate in food production, women on average own less than 10 per cent of land. They have less of a say in production as they have fewer assets and less access to leadership positions especially in manufacturing activities and the natural resource sector.

It is time for public and private investors to shift paradigms, to recognise that the development of more economically and environmentally sustainable value chains is interlinked with achieving gender equality.

For instance, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they would increase yields on their farms by 20 per cent to 30 per cent.

Resilience

For the private sector to up their role in climate resilience practices, they must put pressure on each other through such requirements as integrating sustainability information into their reporting cycle.

This could be integrated into such recognition initiatives as the Financial Reporting Awards that are held every year in Kenya. Doing nothing is costly for business and for us all in the long-run while great opportunity lies in sustainable investing.

When conducting due diligence for good business conduct, we need to seek accountability from big companies including their carbon footprint, broader environmental impact and the labour and human rights conditions, with a specific focus on the impact on women and the environment.

Cases abound locally of complaints from women regarding denial of bathroom breaks, sick leave and sexual abuse.

It is true that sustainable businesses will find cheaper capital from impact investors who look for companies whose technologies and solutions can help build climate resilience tools.

The faster these technologies and solutions grow; the more capacity we will have to deal with climate change as such businesses also gain licence to operate in our environment hence creating a win-win situation for all.

The solutions need not be grand; they can start at the lowest level. For instance, the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is implementing an agricultural extension approach predominantly driven by women as village-based advisors.

Their objective is to modify small-scale farmers’ practice for increased yields through simple but effective practices such as use of improved seed or changes in the way farmers space their seeds.

While originally designed to increase farmer awareness and adoption of improved seed and fertiliser, the village-based advisors can serve as a conduit for a diverse range of products and services such as crop insurance which are of potential interest and value to smallholder farmers.

The World Bank Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Programme is another initiative providing capacities and technologies to farmers to improve climate adaptation and mitigation.

These are initiatives that developing countries can push more private and public funds to support.

Ms Mbuthia, a Development Finance Specialist, is Deputy Governor, Nyandarua County. [email protected]

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