Small eco-business brings big changes for women

Small eco-business brings big changes for women

Date: March 3, 2013
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The Sahara desert grows by the size of New Zealand every year, engulfing what was once fertile land and reducing the variety and volume of crops that can be grown in the Sahel region of Africa. Failing rains and unpredictable weather patterns mean that even in fertile areas crops often fail.

This has lead to an increase in deforestation within this region. When crops fail, villagers cut down their trees to pay for food and medicine. However, it’s a vicious cycle – the loss of trees exacerbates the effects of climate change. Deforestation leads to soil degradation and loss of shelter, thereby increasing risks of crop failure. It is predicted that in Sub-Saharan Africa crop production could fall by up to 22% as a result of climate change.

Nobody in this region can escape the effects of climate change, so why is there a need to emphasise women’s role on climate change adaptation and responses?

Women produce up to 90% of food consumed by the rural poor and 60-80% of food in developing countries. Yet, they consume only a fraction of this. When crops fail it is women who reduce their food intake so that the rest of their families can eat.

TREE AID’s Village Tree Enterprise project is helping women from communities in the Sahel region of Africa to set up businesses based on the production and sale of non-timber tree products like shea butter, baobab leaves and honey. This not only promotes the conservation of forest areas but also provides a stable income for their families ensuring that their health and educational needs are met.

Amina Musa worked as a farmer in Ghana before joining the Village Tree Enterprise project in her community. She is now a leader in a Shea nut enterprise run by women.

“I think that having women involved in and leading these businesses has brought a very positive change. The culture here is that the man fetches corn and millet but he doesn’t care how it becomes food,” says Musa. “He doesn’t give money for ground nuts, leaves, oil… all the other things we need to make sure corn and millet become food. Now we have our own money and we can choose how we would like to spend it. Our husbands are happy and so are we!”

Along with food production, women prioritise income for the education of their children and healthcare for the whole family. As a result, when women’s incomes are reduced the whole family suffers. As the incomes of women in small communities in Africa rely largely on the sale of crops and natural products they will be strongly impacted by the adverse effects of climate change on the environment. Alternative sources of income are important to ensuring that children stay in school.

“In my family, the extra income has meant that I can pay my children’s school fees and that we have better food security,” adds Musa. “Before we struggled to have enough food to eat at certain times and now, well things are not perfect, but they are so much better, and all the children are in school. This year all the fees are paid and we still have some money left to help to buy food.”

Aiguera Zagre is part of the Village Tree Enterprise project in her community in Burkina Faso. Formerly a farmer and a gardener during the dry season, she is now the secretary of the group ADECUSS Feminin that makes Balanites soap. Zagre points out that sustainable business makes sense on all fronts, it’s good for business, protects the environment, ensures income for important household expenses, and is helping to build a better future for the next generation.
“We were already doing activities to protect the environment but now that we have our business and that we’ve received training about the importance of tree resources, we’ve really redoubled these efforts,” explains Zagre. “I do reforestation activities so that not just me, but also my children and grandchildren can benefit from the activities of this project. I think that the tree planting and the natural resource management are really the most important activities of all, not just for the future of my business but for the future of my community.”

For the women, like Salimata Dembelé in the village of Fifini in Mali, the local businesses are just a beginning. Dembelé dream is “to become an important entrepreneur able to satisfy my own needs and take care of my family.”

The work of TREE AID, by supporting women to earn a stable source of income from the resources available locally, makes clear the importance of trees and helps women to protect them. It’s possible for village communities in Africa to survive and prosper in the face of climate change.

Joanna Wain is a volunteer with TREE AID. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.







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