On 19th September 2023, Health of Mother Earth Foundation in collaboration with Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre and Obelle Concerned Citizens (OCC) held a capacity-building meeting on Climate Change, Adaptation, and Mitigation for women drawn from Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, and Rivers States. Participants were drawn from communities within and outside the metropolitan city of Benin, government agencies – the Edo State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Edo State Ministry of Social Development and Gender Issues as well as civil society organisations and the media.

The training strengthened the capacity of women in addressing impacts of climate change owing to the fact that women face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty and due to existing roles, responsibilities, and cultural norms. Issues of flooding and food insecurity are a woman’s nightmare as they pose grave dangers to her family’s well-being.

HOMEF’s Director of Programmes, Joyce Brown, taking the first session, facilitated interactions on climate change, its causesand impacts. It was agreed that climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a reality we face every day with signs such as rising temperatures, irregular rainfall pattern, the loss of biodiversity, more frequent and severe flooding, droughts, etc This session highlighted the deep connection that exists between climate change, extractivism and agriculture. 

Extractivism – the extraction of fossil fuels and other natural resources emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases – CO2 andmethane that act like a blanket wrapped around the earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. Extractivism is thus the major cause of climate change. Clearing land and cutting down forests also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Agriculture, is both a victim and a perpetrator of climate change. Conventional agricultural practices involve deforestation, soil degradation, transportation of food over long distances and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides – all of which increase the amount of  greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Industrial Agriculture has been researched to contribute up to 30%  of greenhouse gases. On the other hand, changes in temperature and rainfall patterns affect crop yields and make it harder for farmers to predict growing seasons. This change in climate significantly affects agricultural production. This is in addition to the direct destructive impacts of extractivism on soils and water bodies which support livelihoods of local communities.

According to Brown, Agriculture holds the key to mitigating climate change. Agroecological farming practices, such as agroforestry, crop rotation, and organic farming, can sequester carbon, improve soil health (healthy soils are better able to trap in carbon and are more resilient to climate change impacts) and reduce the extractive industry’s carbon footprint.  Studies have shown that agroecological practices  can remove as much as  40% of carbon from the atmosphere.

Brown encouraged women farmers to take the right actions towards agroecology, adopt sustainable farming practices that reduce emissions (introduce tree crops on the farm), preserve biodiversity (practice mixed cropping) and improve soil health (using biofertilisers). She called on the government to support research and innovation in agroecology to develop more climate-resilient crop varieties and farming techniques in ways that are ecologically and culturally appropriate and sustainable.  Joyce Brown urged the women to join voices and advocate for policies that support agroecology as well as other local innovations which help with resilience to climate change.

Emem Okon, the Executive Director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre speaking on the intersection between gender and climate justice emphasized that gender is a social construct representing roles society gives to women that most times deprive women of certain privileges and opportunities leaving them vulnerable while sex is the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females. These roles usually differ from society to society and end up being discriminatory in response. 

She noted that “years of wrong narratives about gender roles has created a mental construct that has resulted in women making decisions that endangers their lives and well-being. Gender is not just about women but as a result of unequal power relations the focus has been on women because women have been sidelined for far too long. Programs, policies and solutions in any sphere or industry should be gender responsive and be bordered by social inclusion”.

Bringing in the intersectionality that exists between gender and climate change, Emem Okon established the fact that women are more affected than men when it comes to the impacts of climate change, and it is imperative that the gender disparities in the climate conversations are addressed alongside other marginalized persons in the society. Giving some statistics, she said – 70% of the world’s 33 million refugees are women and children, – 1% of the world’s land is owned by women and girls, – women produce 43% of food in most developing countries, – women account for more than 70% of the poorest people in the world.

Using the recent flooding in Nigeria in 2022 as an example, interactions with participants revealed the trauma women passed through in navigating their way during the floods and gaining balance with the aftermath of the floods. Mothers lost their childrenand farms cultivated (some on loans) were destroyed. Ms. Okon encouraged the women to join their voices in the campaign for climate justice that recognises women and other marginalized persons such as persons with disabilities.

Sharing local solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation with perspectives from the Fishnet Alliance, Cadmus Atake-Enade, HOMEF’s Project Lead on Community and Culture highlighted the roles and objectives of the Fishnet Alliance and how the network has contributed in helping members adapt and mitigate the challenges associated with climate change. Some of such contributions are training on sustainable fishing practices derived from local knowledge, advocacy for better government policies amongst others. At the end of the session, six women representing their communities were inaugurated into the Alliance. 

The community women shared their experiences with regard to impacts of extractivism and climate change:

  •  Clear and visible health implications such as cancer, stomach-ache, incurable body rash due to the settling of the gas flare particles on clothes and wears, miscarriages, blindness and loss of good health generally`.
  • Loss of their livelihoods as a result of floods destroying their farms and  high cost of food products due to damage to their roads and resultant increased cost of transportation.
  • Heavy pollution of groundwater by oil – an occurrence in Ughelli (Delta State) and Gele Gele Community (Edo State).
  • Gas flaring emitting harmful gases that prevents the proper  growth of vegetables such as pepper.
  • Stems of cassava become starchy resulting to stunted growth of the crop and generally poor yields due to oil pollution.

Recommendations by the women for climate change adaptation and mitigation include: 

  • The government should seek and invest in clean and sustainable energy sources such as solar and hydro-energy.
  • Government should execute solutions for proper water channeling to reduce the impacts of flooding.
  • Government should adopt a gender and climate change action plan, promote land ownership for women, support agroecology and revive agricultural extension service for small holder farmers.
  • Monitoring and evaluation policy should be strictly adhered to in programs and projects implementation.
  • The green climate fund should be made available to women small holder farmers.
  • Gender budgeting should be encouraged. It’s all about social inclusion.
  • CSOs should intensify their efforts of sensitization and advocacy on climate change mitigation and adaptation especially in rural communities.
  • Women should unite and form critical groups/movements and pressurize the government to carry out needed action.Women should also do individual sensitization for those around them.
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