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International Women's Day 2012
African women: champions of climate-smart agriculture
7 March 2012
Lindiwe Majele Sibanda


Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is chief executive of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

International Women's Day gives us an opportunity to take note of women's achievements, but also their potential.

Agricultural practices need to be adapted to local conditions so that Africa's smallholder farmers, 80 percent of whom are women, are better able to withstand more extreme weather conditions such as drought and erratic rainfall. In short, African agriculture urgently needs to become climate-smart.

Sadly, a combination of logistical, cultural, and economic factors, coupled with a lack of gender disagregated statistics in the agricultural sector, has resulted in the formulation of agricultural programmes that are seldom suitable to address the specific needs of women.

To address this issue, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) launched the Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) Project in 2009, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project seeks to strengthen women farmers' capacity to advocate for appropriate agricultural marketing policies and programmes.

Results of the WARM project have highlighted, amongst other things, that women farmers need to easily access affordable, good quality seeds. In a recent interview, Teresa Sumbane, a smallholder farmer from Mozambique, discussed her involvement in the WARM project as well as the challenges posed by climate change in her community.

"An important step is to ensure that farmers – both male and female – have access to improved seeds", said Sumbane.

In January 2010, FANRPAN launched the Harmonised Seed Security Programme (HaSSP) with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The programme looked at how to increase the availability of and access to this key input.

Empowered women can uplift not only their households but a whole community.

Following severe drought in Swaziland in 2002, Happy Shongwe, a smallholder farmer who produces seeds, depended on food vouchers supplied by the Food and Agricuture Organisation (FAO) to survive.

However, with appropriate training and support, she invested in Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and planted legumes that have proved to be drought resistent. Today, she is not only a successful seed producer but also teaches other women from her community to become financially independent and food secure.

Given that women carry out the lion’s share of agricultural production in Africa, they can become powerful agents of change by implementing CSA. Yet despite the role that they play, women still receive only a small fraction of the resources, support and training that their male counterparts receive.

To address this gap, more programmes can be supported which target specifically women's potential contribution to this challenge.

While International Women's Day allows us time to reflect, let us not forget that the voice of women farmers should be included throughout the year.

For instance, two upcoming forums, the Rio+20 Summit in June and the COP18 climate change conference in December, will be key venues for discussing how women can contribute more effectively to food security and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Women can be champions of climate-smart agriculture.

As women become seed secure and earn more income from increased production, the power regarding policy development may shift, resulting in more development programmes that have positive impact. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda says: "If policies do not meet the needs of women smallholder farmers then market-led growth across the food production chain will not be successful."

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