Africa: Empowering African Small-Scale Farmers, Especially Women, to Adapt to Climate Crisis

Rachel Toku-Appiah, Director, Program Advocacy and Communications, Africa
29 November 2023
guest column

As the world gears up for COP28, one stark reality cannot be ignored: global efforts to combat the climate emergency are falling short, and vulnerable communities in developing nations are bearing the brunt of the consequences. While discussions around mitigation strategies dominate the conversation, millions of small-scale women farmers in Africa are already grappling with the harsh realities of climate change.

Insufficient funding, compounded by limitations within national and global financial structures, hampers the equitable distribution of support to aid small-scale farmers in adapting to climate change. COP28 should demonstrate major support for adaptation and show better commitment to solutions that empower women to not only survive but thrive in this changing climate.

Escalating temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, and extreme climatic events are posing formidable challenges to small-scale farmers who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Small-scale farmers, who currently produce half of the world’s food calories , face the dual burden of feeding their families and communities while navigating the uncertain terrain of a changing climate. It is important to note that women play a significant role in this agriculture workforce, contributing between 60% and 80% of food production in most developing nations.

However, women farmers encounter a unique set of obstacles that impede their capacity to thrive in this crucial sector. Inadequate land rights, limited access to agricultural loans, and disparities in access to agricultural knowledge and decision-making authority are just a few of the challenges they face. For instance, women own just 10% of farming land despite producing the majority of the food in Africa. As a result of inadequate land rights women are vulnerable to eviction from their farms. These disparities have resulted in a significant gender productivity gap in many countries, with variations as high as 23% in Tanzania and a staggering 66% in Niger. The urgent need for action, underscored by these challenges, highlights the importance of prompt and decisive measures to address these issues effectively.

At COP28, it is crucial that we direct our attention toward empowering women farmers to adapt to the changing climate. Empowering women in agriculture not only secures increased agricultural productivity but also brings broader benefits, including reduced hunger, malnutrition, and poverty within communities. By securing funding for adaptation, embracing cutting-edge technologies, and adopting innovative practices, we can collectively pave a sustainable path forward for women farmers and the communities they serve.

Empowering African women small-scale farmers

Several solutions are already available and, with sufficient investment, can be implemented on a large scale. By removing barriers to financing, women farmers can invest in climate-smart technologies and practices such as climate-resilient crop varieties, sustainable soil fertility management techniques, and digital technologies. For instance, in Kenya, women farmers have successfully sowed drought-resilient seeds, which thrive during low rainfall years, boosting crop yields and enhancing food security. Ensuring that women farmers have access to the latest innovations and knowledge is essential in supporting climate adaptation efforts.

However, the benefits of climate-smart technologies and resilient agricultural practices can only be fully realized with the right education and training. Comprehensive programs must provide the right seminars and workshops to equip women with the knowledge of climate-resilient farming techniques. For example, with the right know-how, farmers can focus on cultivating naturally resilient crops like millet, sorghum, sweet potato, cassava, and pigeon peas, contributing to a more diversified and nutritious diet while safeguarding their harvests for generations to come. Moreover, by fostering networks and support systems for women farmers, we can help them to share knowledge and experiences, fostering resilience within their communities and enabling their participation in decision-making processes. A recent study in Kenya   found that women who participated in self-help groups were more likely to know about climate-smart agricultural practices.

With the necessary investments, we can empower women farmers to adapt to their changing environment, ensuring their resilience in the face of climate change.

Making ambitious climate adaptation commitments at COP28

While significant steps have been taken, such as the allocation of nearly a billon dollars in 2021 to the CGIAR international agricultural research partnership, more action is needed to address the multifaceted challenges and barriers facing women farmers worldwide. Adaptation financing remains inadequate compared to its mitigation counterpart, with less than 2% of climate finance directed towards small-scale farmers, and only a small fraction of that earmarked for adaptation.

Therefore, we call for an increase in financing for adaptation through support to the CGIAR and its partners who are developing a wide range of innovations that support resilient, sustainable food production by farmers in a climate-stressed world. The campaign by CGIAR to raise $4 billion by 2027, will enable the organization to reach 500 million small-scale farmers with innovations that would strengthen food systems, benefiting billions of people. COP28 also provides a unique opportunity to tackle the challenges faced by women farmers in the context of climate change, as governments formulate plans to achieve the Paris Agreement’s global adaptation goals. It can serve as a platform for global leaders to pledge policies and actions that empower women in agriculture and promote climate resilience.

We urge leaders at COP28 to build upon their existing commitments to empowering women farmers through adaptation. When women are equipped with the tools and opportunities to adapt, they become champions of change, driving their communities towards a more food-secure and environmentally sustainable future.

Rachel Toku-Appiah is the Director of Program Advocacy and Communications for Africa at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

AllAfrica publishes around 500 reports a day from more than 100 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.