Women take lead in biodiversity conservation

Date: September 23, 2009
  • SHARE:

Diniwe Mereki is a primary school teacher who was inspired to participate in the project after seeing the high level of commitment from other women and the great work happening in the fields. “I think it is helpful for women to be involved in food security,À she says. “A woman can rely on herself and feed her children, without relying on her husband’s support.À  
Mereki is a member of a farming group in the Ntchisi district in the central region of Malawi. The group is part of a project currently running in Mali, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, as well as Malawi, being implemented by the Circle for Integrated Community Development (CICOD), supported by HIVOS, FAIR, Development Fund of Norway, Swed Bio, and the Zimbabwean-based Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC),
Although a teacher by profession, Mereki is also now a proud framer who believes in the value of traditional crops. “I can tell you that indigenous crops are different from hybrid, they are very reliable, some of them have medicinal value, so we cannot ignore local indigenous crops,À says Mereki.
Although the project is open to both women and men, FAIR programme coordinator, Dalitso Kafuwa is proud of the overwhelming participation of women, who comprise 85% of participants. “We have empowered women here, they are now mainly involved in the cultivation of indigenous crops. It is women who are the custodians of biodiversity conservation,À she notes.
Kafuwa stresses the need for men to be involved, so that not only women are seen as seed custodians. However, she says that men are not as interested in growing local indigenous crops as women are. “Women are mostly at home, they are the ones keeping indigenous seeds. Men are only interested in high-profit crops such as tobacco,À observes Kafuwa.
Participants grow crops such as Bambara nuts, Okra, local beans, millet and groundnuts. These mostly women farmers are not only at the forefront of cultivating local crops, they are also involved in a farmers’ rights forum, where cross-cutting issues of gender and HIV and AIDS are addressed.
The project also highlights the importance of traditional crops for plant genetic diversity and environmental policy issues, such as safeguarding local plant genetic resources from pirating by powerful foreign multinational companies, who sometimes reap the profits from indigenous knowledge. The Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) handles policy issues in this project, addressing, amongst other things, bio safety in the context of local plant genetic resources.
According to the organisers, the project conforms to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) of 1994. The treaty is an international legally binding instrument that targets the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources; it also has provisions for farmers’ rights that compel governments across the globe to uphold these rights.
According to Kafuwa, local crops are very important and must not be forgotten. “Malawi is a signatory to ITPGRFA and it is important to keep local plant genetic resources from local plants. Local crops are very important and we should not forget them. Hybrids and local crops must be promoted together,À she adds.
Vickness Majoni is another woman taking a leading role in community biodiversity conservation. She belongs to a farmers club composed of 20 women and 5 men, which started in 2006. She calls for more women to be involved in the conservation of indigenous crops to make themselves food secure.
“Women must be food self sufficient, we don’t have to have to rely on our husbands. In this project woman are able to participate in all activities without being blocked by men,À she says.
As many countries race to meet some of the targets set in the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, it is not still clear to what extent countries and governments have put in place strategies or interventions to promote women in farming and environmental conservation. Yet women are pivotal in boosting food security. Ignoring women’s participation is retrogressive and will do little to help end hunger in the world.
Dingaan Mithi is programme officer for Journalists Association Against AIDS in Malawi. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, which offers fresh news on every day news.

Comment on Women take lead in biodiversity conservation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *