Climate change: the unusual farmer


Written by Kristofer Gravning

What do you think of when you hear the word farmer? Perhaps you envisage a sturdy man in overalls standing alone in his corn field. Sweat trickling down his skin after many hours toiling in the sun. Resting his spade across his right shoulder as he surveys his farm. Perhaps he makes his way over to a bright red tractor, his heavy boots sinking into wet soil. Let’s say his name is John.

But John is not your typical farmer. In most of sub-Saharan Africa, John does not exist. In Africa, John is most likely a woman. In fact, women farmers constitute up to 70% of Africa’s workforce for food production.They labour small farms, producing haphazard crops for personal consumption. They are guaranteed to be amongst the world’s poorest, earning less than $1.25 a day. Rarely will they have access to advanced equipment, like tractors.

A woman farmer in Africa has nowhere near the same rights or privileges as John. Even though they work more than men, they receive significantly less benefits. They are 10% less likely to access credit to invest in their farms than their male counterparts. Women farmers are 50% less likely to access fertilisers, high-quality seeds, mechanical tools and equipment. And even though the vast majority of farmers are female, they own only 1% of the land.

On top of this, climate change is risking livelihoods. With a global temperature rise comes erratic and extreme weather. If rainfall does not come when it should, or too much falls at once, then not only will farmers have less food, but the chances of selling excess produce disappears – and along with it, the chance to afford ‘luxuries’ such as education.

By 2100 Africa’s annual average temperatures are expected to rise by more than 4°C. This means extreme heatwaves that we only experience every couple of centuries will become increasingly normal during summer months. It is estimated that by 2050, agricultural production will have decreased by 22% in sub-Saharan Africa due to climate change. This will pose an enormous threat to the livelihoods of African women who will be disproportionately affected.

Let’s envisage a female farmer in 10 years’ time, we will call her Amri. She receives a text message warning her about an impending drought. Amri’s community, however, has a small irrigation system draining water from a nearby dam. She can cope.

Her hands reach into a large brown fabric sack and she begins planting weather resilient seeds she has purchased with money borrowed from the bank. Her output has dramatically increased. With knowledge of market prices she has decided to invest her money in cotton seeds. With additional funds from her sales she will manage to pay the education fees for her two children.

Amri’s story will only become a reality if we invest in climate smart agriculture focusing on women. This means developing skills of rural farmers, providing them with access to improved technology and farming methods.

As well as assisting in the purchase of high-quality and resilient seeds; and developing physical infrastructure such as weather warning and irrigation systems. We must also develop female access to finance, increase women participation in local farming bodies, and advocate for legislation promoting female ownership. Only when women have the same access to benefits as men will Africa’s food security increase and the poverty gap close.

International development funding for agricultural programmes has decreased over the past three decades and gender is too rarely discussed. This must be urgently reversed. 70% of Africa’s agricultural workforce depends on it.

Adam Smith International is designing and implementing the Climate Smart Agriculture Programme (CSAP) on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Development. CSAP will catalyse climate resilience and food security for vulnerable African communities focusing on women farmers and benefiting over two million people.