Dear Friends and Colleagues

African Rural Women Key to Building Community Resilience to Climate Change

Small farmers – mainly women - produce 80% of the food in Africa on just 14.7% of the agricultural land, and control 80% of the seeds produced and exchanged on small farms.

The African Biodiversity Network, Gaia Foundation and African Women's Development Fund have jointly released a report in recognition of the critical role African rural women play in evolving and maintaining the continent’s diverse and climate-resilient agricultural systems. It provides testimonies of the pivotal work of women, as custodians of seed and nutritional food, medicine and biodiversity, and as spiritual, cultural and community leaders.

The report explains how the knowledge and the status of women has been systematically undermined to the point of becoming invisible, and how the corporate-driven forces which exacerbate this continue to push women and their families further to the edge. The present global corporate scramble to control Africa’s rich heritage of minerals and fossil fuels, water and agricultural lands, seeds and food systems, threatens to destabilise the continent and create more conflict, further impacting women adversely.

The report calls for both practical and policy support for rural women, their communities and their social movements in Africa, and for a profound and urgent shift in agricultural and investment policies across the continent. In particular, policies and practices should enhance women’s participation; value and recognise women’s knowledge; and enable women as well as men farmers to participate in decision-making processes in agriculture, food production, land and governance.

The report concludes that the contribution of African women and their traditional knowledge are vital to building community resilience to climate change and regenerating of the viability of our planet.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
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African Biodiversity Network, Gaia Foundation and African Women's Development Fund

About This Report

We need to recognise the central role that rural women play in most traditions, maintaining and enhancing both crop diversity and wild biodiversity across the African continent, together with their associated knowledge systems.

A vast wealth of knowledge about crops, nutrition, medicines, biodiversity, ecosystems, climate change and more, is on the verge of being lost to Africa forever, just when it is most needed.

Over millennia, women in most African traditions have played a central role in selecting, storing, and enhancing the diversity of their seeds. To produce food for their families in varying conditions, they developed a sophisticated capacity to understand their ecosystem and the climate, making very accurate calculations as to what to plant in the coming season.

The complexity of this knowledge system, the intimate relationship that rural women tend to have with land and seed, and their understanding of the range of needs of the family and the community cannot be underestimated. It has been evolved over generations. This knowledge lies at the heart of women’s continuing role in building resilience and in their status in the community.

In Chapter 1, Women as Custodians of Seed & Food Diversity, we are reminded of the tremendous natural and cultural wealth, which has evolved over generations across Africa, including the enormous diversity of seed and foods. This chapter highlights women as cultivators of diversity, protectors of wild areas and medicinal plants, and their critical role in the food systems of the continent under changing climatic conditions. It looks also at the sacredness of seed, and women as custodians of customary law.

Chapter 2, Undermining Women’s Role in Agriculture & the Community, looks at how women have been systematically undermined throughout the colonial, post-colonial and globalisation processes. Rural women are at the forefront of the latest scramble for land by financial investors, real estate speculators, industrial agriculture, biofuels and the mining and extractive industries. It highlights how aggressive corporate-driven policies in seed and agriculture, embraced by most African governments, are pushing women and their families further to the edge. The shocking truth about the push to harmonise seed laws in Africa is revealed; how a handful of corporations threaten to control the continent’s entire seed and food system - directly usurping the right and responsibility of women as custodians of seed, land and livelihoods, and undermining their capacity to deal with climate change.

Despite these aggressions, small farmers – mainly women - still produce 80% of the food in Africa on just 14.7% of the agricultural land, and control 80% of the seeds produced and exchanged on small farms.

Chapter 3, Restoring Women’s Traditional Knowledge & Leadership for Resilience, demonstrates how women are able to rebuild resilience through reviving and enhancing their seed and food diversity and their knowledge systems. As confidence in their own traditional knowledge grows, so too does the respect within family and the community. They are able to restore complementary relationships with men, and their leadership roles in the community and local governance systems. Through exchanges, they are inspired to reach out to other women and communities. Across the continent they become part of the growing food sovereignty movement in Africa, demonstrating that resilient, diversity based farming systems play a central role in adapting to climate change and regenerating local economies, in socially just and ecologically sane ways.

In Chapter 4, Women’s Voices from the Fields, rural women share, in their own words, the stories of how they are actively working with their local communities, reviving seed diversity, and regaining their leadership role. Women from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Benin reflect passionately about how seed is a symbol of life, sacred, and at the heart of their rites of passage, seasonal ceremonies, governance and leadership, as well as the basis of nutrition, medicine and building climate change resilience. These are the custodians of seed, food and life. They see their work as a fundamental duty to their ancestors and to future generations - a responsibility that brings with it much joy.

The Conclusion suggests practical ways to support rural women, their communities and their social movements, to reclaim their leadership role in agriculture and in their communities and to exercise their rights – to revive their traditional knowledge and practices, to enhance seed diversity, to secure food sovereignty, and to regenerate their land and its biodiversity.It calls for recognising the role of rural women and their profound and complex knowledge systems, critical in the face of climate change.

Reclaiming and honouring Africa’s rich heritage is a responsibility this generation has to the next, to restore healthy farming systems and the ecosystems they depend on and thereby taking back control of their lives. This report also appeals for urgent action to support women community leaders to link into social movements - to resist corporate monopoly laws and policies which undermine land, seed and food sovereignty and directly violate the critical role of rural women in agriculture and in the governance of their communities.