Women quite literally feed the nation. Women make up 75% of the labour force in smallholder agriculture and manage 40% of small farms in Kenya. They are also the decision-makers when it comes to nutrition in the household. However, women’s access to and ownership of resources and assets, both natural and financial, does not reflect this. Because women are traditionally poorer and structural barriers such as the patriarchal nature of society that prevents the full realization of women’s rights and potential, they often have lower adaptive capacity to shocks. This brings me to the other monster in the room… climate change.
Climate change is without a doubt the defining challenge of our time. You don’t need to show farmers in rural Kenya the numerous scientific studies that prove the causes and impacts of climate change, they see it year in, year out in the erratic rainfall, the prolonged drought periods, invasive pests and diseases all negatively affecting livestock and agricultural production especially for crops like maize and wheat. It is also worth noting that globally, agriculture, forestry and other land use contributes to 24% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
The effects of climate change will be felt most by the vulnerable in society including the poor in rural areas, such as female-headed households and those with limited access to land, modern agricultural inputs, infrastructure, and education. For women living in rural areas, this means increased distances to fetch water, additional responsibilities and increased risk of gender-based violence.
To adapt to a changing climate and the increasing demand for food security, we need to change our business as usual approach and be more mindful that natural resources such as freshwater and fertile soils are exhaustible if not sustainably utilized. As with most technical jargon, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) isn’t a new concept, it’s simply an approach to shift our agricultural systems in response to a changing climate. This could involve a myriad of practices like agroforestry, water harvesting techniques like Zai pits or planting stress-tolerant crop varieties. It differs in various contexts as it is not a one-size solution fits all approach. If CSA is properly implemented, it could have a three-fold effect in increasing agricultural productivity, enhancing resilience of farmers to climate change and lowering emissions.
By engaging women and men in participatory, gender-responsive technology design and implementation on CSA, enhancing women’s access to credit, critical production resources, financial and extension services, diversifying livelihoods through value chain addition, strengthening institutions at local, national, and regional levels to support agriculture, including early warning systems and gender-oriented climate policies not only strengthens resilience but also transforms gender relations in society and improves the economy. FAO estimates that giving women equal access to agricultural or livestock resources could increase production on farms in developing countries by 20-30% thereby increasing food security and nutrition. This is huge considering Kenya’s population is set to skyrocket in the next couple of decades.
It is on this premise that UN Women in collaboration with FAO are implementing a programme on empowering women through climate smart agriculture in six ASAL counties in Kenya. By ensuring that women throughout the agricultural value chain are accorded equal opportunity and inclusion and increasing their resilience to climate shocks through CSA, then women can meaningfully participate and benefit from agriculture.
This year, as we mark International Day of Rural Women on 15th October, we recognize the invaluable contribution of women living in rural areas to development, to reflect on the progress made since the first commemoration in 2008 and to improve our efforts to enhance their critical role in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. Women are powerful change agents in society and unlocking their potential would not only be of value to society, but to the planet as well.
Lisa Maina is a Programme Assistant at UN Women’s Kenya Office, working in strategic planning and UN coordination. The views expressed in this post are personal and do not necessarily reflect UN Women or the UN’s position.