Women sow seeds, not division to build climate resilience in Senegal

Not so long ago, Senegalese scientist Diaminatou Sanogo decided to help a small rural village in West Africa fight back

against the pounding it was taking from harsh changes to the climate. (Photo-Women inspect pigeonpea during the flowering season in East Africa. Photo by ICRISAT/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/2Bffho1)

Daga-Birame is a farming community of about 800 people in Senegal.

“Keeping seeds, it’s women doing it. Harvesting crops, it’s women doing it. They are part of the value chain but they’re not part of decisions.”

Its harvests have suffered droughts, floods and wind erosion, but in 2011, Sanogo began a mission to transform Daga-Birame into a "climate-smart village."​

She believed that a specialized team could help the villages cope with their new reality by equipping them with tools and techniques that would allow them to boost production and income from crops, using drought-resilient varieties of maize and millet.

It was a collective effort led by the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers along with Sanogo.

She was also motivated by one of the important conditions of their projects: the fact that they are required to ensure that women play a key role.

Sanogo, director of the Senegalese National Center of Forestry Research, said she's particularly interested in this requirement based on what she's seen on the ground as a woman herself.

According to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2017 report, women make up 47 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural workforce. Men are increasingly migrating to cities, noted the intergovernmental organization's report. This leaves women in charge of crops and livestock.

But the FAO also found that women in developing countries do not often own land, or make decisions about land, despite playing such a significant role in the agriculture sector. Half of the world’s countries have laws guaranteeing equal access to land for men and women, but customary practices still prevent women from controlling it, found another study by UN Women in October 2016.

Sanogo said that's a serious problem.

“Women are not really involved. They take care of most of the job but they’re not in the decision part, they don’t have the production factors to do so,” she explained at a food security conference in Quebec City in September.

“Keeping seeds, it’s women doing it. Harvesting crops, it’s women doing it. They are part of the value chain but they’re not part of decisions.”
Sowing seeds, not division

In the climate-smart village in Daga-Birame, women told Sanogo and her colleagues that they wanted to contribute to climate change adaptation at home, but lack of land ownership was an obstacle. Sanogo then asked the community to give women residents a five-hectare parcel of territory, as part of the climate-smart initiative.

The village complied, and the women surrounded their plot with a fence. In their garden, they grew watermelon, okra, mint and pepper to add nutritional diversity to their diet and to sell in the market for extra income.

The women were trained alongside men in new agricultural techniques, like micro-dosing fertilizer,agroforestry (combining tree and crops in fields), and establishing protected areas where fire and wood cutting are forbidden to prevent erosion. Sanago wanted to promote their role in climate change resilience and land ownership cautiously, so as not to “creating a divide” in the community.

“We need a balance, we need to bring men to work with women,” she told National Observer.

The project in Daga-Birame was led by Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, a global partnership for food security research. It's part of a climate change, agriculture and food security program that has so far seen 15 climate-smart villages created in East Africa, West Africa and South Asia. More are currently underway in Latin America and Southeast Asia, as the program works with local partners and researchers to identify practical climate adaptation solutions for smallholder farmers.

In Daga-Birame, improved strains of maize and millet were introduced, and initial results showed a 50-per-cent increase in yield. Five new fruit tree species were also introduced to help prevent soil erosion and create new income for the villagers who could sell the fruit.

Diaminatou Sanogo visits the women of Daga-Birame, a "climate-smart village" in Senegal, on Sept. 29, 2015. Photo by V. Meadu (CGIAR)/Creative Commons