A Sustainable Approach To Addressing Climate Change Effects: The Role Of Award Fellows

5 12 2008

by Charity Osei-Amponsah (AWARD Fellow)

African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD) is a program designed to enhance the careers of African women scientists and also accelerate their efforts to fight hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. AWARD has recently given sixty (60) outstanding women scientists from nine (9) African countries a two-year Mentoring Fellowship. The Fellowship aims at improving and increasing the professional, scientific and people’s skills of these Fellows working in diverse areas of agriculture research and development. To start the Fellowship, the 60 selected Fellows together with their Mentors attended Orientation Workshops organized by the AWARD Team in Mombasa, Kenya between September and November 2008. The workshop was very educative and insightful and for me the coaching session was a rediscovery of the great potentials within me. I am now on a pathway to expanding my network and becoming more visible in influencing policy through my research work as an Agricultural economist.

Women scientists play a crucial role in supporting Food security and Poverty reduction in Africa through innovative ideas recommended from their research and/or development work especially at the rural level. In Africa many rural women depend on the ecosystem for food, energy, water and medicine. This ecosystem is however threatened by the enormous effects of climate change. The world is facing a climate change crisis and women scientists in Africa must be recognized as part of the solution if sustainable ways of mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change are to be achieved. The solutions for climate change need to be addressed through a sustainable approach. The only approach to achieve this long term sustainability for me is to get all scientists particularly African women scientists fully on board and to get them integrated into all levels of policy development and implementation of climate change projects.

Climate change is any long term change in the average weather that a given region experiences. The change may be caused by dynamic processes on earth, external forces including variations in sunlight intensity and recently more of human activity. Climate change is one of the most serious threats the world faces today. It will affect all of us, but will have a disproportionate impact on a lot of poor rural people especially women and children. Climate change is a challenge to those of us working in research and development and it will make it more difficult to achieve the Millennium Development Goals if no effective measures are put in place to combat its impact. The poor rural people in Africa are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This is because they live on ecologically fragile lands and depend extensively on rain fed agriculture.

Evidence that is specific to Ghana suggests that climate change is already occurring. In 2008, 4,500 hectares of cultivated land were submerged and 197,000 tonnes of crops were destroyed while 332,000 households were displaced in the Northern parts of the country due to flooding. A newspaper report from Malawi also indicates some of the harsh impacts of climate change on farmers. Lilongwe in Central Malawi experienced a fierce water scarcity which caused most crops to dry up before they matured. I have mentioned but a few cases of the effects of climate change on farmers in Africa but there are severe cases all over Africa. Climate change will make it difficult for us to contribute meaningfully to AWARD’s vision of addressing food security, fighting hunger and poverty in Africa. I know we are women who have learned to make things happen so we are capable of coming up with mitigation and adaptation strategies to sustainably fight the impacts of climate change.

I believe we AWARD Fellows with our diverse background in agriculture, water and environmental resource management can use our professional expertise and networking capabilities to help farmers improve production and productivity even in the face of climate change. Let us bring all stakeholders on board especially the farmers, making use of their indigenous knowledge, opportunities and resources to design appropriate research tools to address this threat to food security and poverty reduction. So I am calling on all of you, 60 outstanding African women scientists in agriculture research and development in the area of soil fertility; crop physiology; animal reproduction; agricultural economics; environmentalist; food security; water and land resource management; aquaculture, plant breeding, tsetse fly control; livestock production; forestry; fisheries; oceanography and many others. Whether you are on the field, in an office or in a laboratory, we all have a significant role to play in helping to design adaptation and mitigation strategies to address climate change in our individual countries and in Africa as a whole.

The environmental scientist could explore an ensemble of adaptation strategies to be adopted by specific communities, such as providing fast growing trees for reforestation. She could also research and disseminate results on effective control of bushfires, use of improved weather and climate data in agriculture and other weather sensitive industries. Those in crop production and soil science could research into conservation agriculture which involves minimal soil disturbance, an effective use of water by plants and better water holding capacity of the soil. The geneticists among us should develop drought resistant varieties of local staples and make the varieties available to the farmers. The economics experts must use their statistical skills to design innovative ways of improving farmers’ incomes through simple off-farm income generating activities in the farmers’ communities. Before I forget, those in Fisheries please provide us with scientific methods of fishing which could reduce the depletion of young fishes in both marine and inland waters. Of course the water management scientist, yes, she will be able to design effective and sustainable means of harvesting rain water possibly into cisterns which could use gravity rather than fuel to pump the water for irrigation on small scale farms during the dry seasons. Our extension staff should begin to create the awareness among the farming communities and also help the farmers to adopt new innovations from the scientists.

These are only a few of the many strategies we can all help to develop to make sure that African farmers are able to cope with the rigorous effects of climate change. AWARD Fellows we can cause a change in the livelihoods of farmers affected by climate change, for me the time to cause that change is now. For if we do not act now, when droughts, floods or unpredictable rainfall make food, fuel and water scarce, our vulnerable sisters will be forced to search for wild foods in the forest, spend more time caring for malnourished children, or walk for several hours to collect water and fuel for their households.

Arise therefore African Women in Agricultural Research and Development and let us do what AWARD Mentoring Fellowship is helping us to do best.

This article is dedicated to Monica Kapiriri

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One response

6 02 2009
Grace Bolfrey-Arku

I think Charity just hit the nail on its head. Climate change is real and it is here with us. The question is how are we as AWARD fellows that have gone through mentoring and leadership workshops combat this. As Charity said can we with our diverse background network to exchange/share ideas, information on what works or is working elsewhere? If possible, can we even suggest experts.

As a weed scientist/agronomist who basically work with farmers on-farm, climate change is a challenge for me, women who do most weeding already are grappling with losses due to weeds, insect pests and diseases. Thus the issue of climate change then makes the problem a ‘4-prong rake ‘ that needs to be handled holistically with all hands on board. Any help?

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