Rural women farmers still waiting for climate action

Rural women farmers still waiting for climate action

Date: January 14, 2010
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Traditional weather signs, such as the blowing of west to east winds or certain cloud formations, no longer signal happiness for Joana Jaime, 45, as she prepares her plot to plant a maize crop on the outskirts of Maputo. Jaime is one of many subsistence farmers in Africa who are finding that changing weather patterns are making the already difficult job of farming even harder.

“We no longer have the signs to predict when we can have rains or a drought like we used to do a decade ago,” says the mother of four who supplements her husband’s income by planting maize, a staple diet, for family consumption.

Like many subsistence farmers, Jaime has seen dwindling output from her crops. Even worse, others in Mozambique and around the continent have experienced the destruction of property and even the deaths of loved ones resulting from extreme weather events, such as floods.

Since 1997, world leaders, under the auspices of the United Nations, have held yearly meetings to address changing weather conditions. Just this past December delegates gathered in the Danish city of Copenhagen with high hopes that a solution would be hammered out to address the changing climate.

Although famers like Jaime are rarely found at such global conferences, they are among the most affected. Research by Mozambique’s National Disaster Management Institute (INGC) found that exposure to natural disaster risk in Mozambique will increase significantly over the coming 20 years and beyond. It states that in the event of poor global mitigation results – the “too little, too late” scenario – temperatures in Mozambique could rise by as much as two degrees Celsius to 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, and by 5 degrees Celsius to 6 degrees Celsius by 2090.

Rainfall variability would increase, the start of the rainy season would likely shift, flood risk would be higher, and the centre of the country would suffer more intense cyclones and droughts. As well, erosion could push the 2,700km coastline inland by around 500m; with around 12 million people – 60 percent of the population – living in coastal areas, this was “a scenario likely to be catastrophic for the country.

Saquina Mucavele represented a coalition of Mozambican women at the Copenhagen conference. In 2007 alone, Mozambique was hit by a drought, a flood and a cyclone, substantially contributing to the number of natural disasters worldwide, which has roughly doubled from the mid-90s to today. Mucavele has strong feelings about the impact climate change has on women, and the need for their views to be taken into account.

“In Mozambique, when the climate change debate is brought to the fore women are left out. Yet they are the same people who are facing the brunt of the effects of climate change,” she says. Her sentiments are representative not only of women’s groups in Mozambique or Africa, but thought out the world.

The contingent of gender groups represented at the Copenhagen summit is indicative of how serious the need is to consider a gender perspective on climate change. Although gender organisations may have different approaches to adapting and responding to climate change, one clear message is that it is high time for universal and inclusive participation as a way forward.

Like many issues, “action” is a catch phrase sued in the climate change debate. For almost two decades world leaders have been talking about finding a solution. As United States president Barack Obama said in his conference address, “the time of talks is over this is the bottom line.” He added, “Ladies and gentlemen there is no time to waste. Now its time for people of the world to come together under one purpose.”

And so, as we enter into a new year, it is disappointing that politicians continue to drag their feet. Environmental and gender activists who had hoped to start 2010 with a strong and binding climate change treaty were disappointed that leaders could not agree on figures.

On the ground, this means rural women who toil every day on their fields will continue to feel the effects of climate change, with little hope of real change any time soon.

It is unfortunate that Obama’s message did not translate into the final outcome document signed by leaders later lat year. No convincing solution came out of the summit. As the vent wrapped up, focus turned to the next climate change summit to be held in Mexico, this year.

However until then, the extreme weather conditions caused by climate will continue virtually unchecked. It would seem the voices of those in the most vulnerable countries for positive strategies to cope with climate change fell on deaf ears. Some even renamed Copenhangen as “Hopenhagen.” For women like Joana Jaime, it would seem that action is still a distant hope.

Fred Katerere is a freelance journalist based in Maputo. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.




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