Women take lead in sustainable farming for Africa’s food security Kelah Kaimenyi and Johnson Siamachira

Women across the globe are disproportionately affected by droughts, floods and other extreme weather events and marginalized when it comes to making decisions on recovery and adaptation to climate change. Smallholder farmers in Africa – of which women make up 60 to 80 percent –are predicted to be some of those most affected by climate change.

Yet despite recent efforts to incorporate gender into sustainable development initiatives, women farmers continue to be left behind due to various social, economic and political barriers. This gender gap in adoption of improved crop production strategies prevents women from achieving more yields, and subsequently high profits, which is detrimental to women’s empowerment in the region, according to a 2014 study published in Food Policy. Results from this study by CIMMYT’s Monica Fisher and Vongai Kandiwa, also show that female versus male farmer adoption rates for modern maize are significantly lower.

Adoption of new agricultural technologies and sustainable practices by women is vital towards securing the future of food in Africa and throughout the world. Below are women who have embraced sustainable farming through conservation agriculture practices like minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and the use of crop rotation to simultaneously maintain and boost yields, increase profits and protect the environment.

Photo: Johnson Siamachira/ CIMMYT

Mavis Moyo, of Zaka District in Zimbabwe has benefitted from conservation agriculture and the use of drought and heat tolerant maize varieties. During the 2015/2016 agricultural season, she realized almost 200 kilograms of white grain, up from 100 kilograms the previous season.

Photo: Johnson Siamachira/ CIMMYT

Angeline Odero and 2,000 other farmers in the Boro Community of Siaya, western Kenya, received training in good agricultural practices focusing on the importance of using new technologies to grow weed-free crops and increase yields. For Angeline, the use of herbicides has reduced her cost of weeding from USD 160 per hectare using hired labor, to less than USD 60 per hectare.

Photo: Kelah Kaimenyi/ CIMMYT

Following bouts of Striga, and attacks from rodents on her farm, a frustrated Hellen Akinyi almost gave up on maize farming. The mother of six chose instead to put up a tree nursery, from which she earns an income selling seedlings. An extension officer in Alego sub-county, western Kenya, where Hellen resides, spoke to her and others about climate smart technologies, including inter-cropping. Since applying this practice on her farm, Hellen has seen a remarkable difference on her farm thanks to this technology – increased yields and reduced emergence of Striga on her farm.

Photo: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT

Maize under conservation agriculture systems involving crop rotations and inter-cropping with legumes increase yields. In the photograph, conservation agriculture practitioner Lughano Mwangonde in Balaka district in Malawi. She has managed to improve soil fertility in her fields, increase her maize yield and improve her household food security.

Photo: Kelah Kaimenyi/ CIMMYT

Planting drought-tolerant (DT) maize varieties has proven to be a sustainable strategy for improving food security. Besides being the top producers of maize, smallholder farmers are also the hardest hit by climate variability and change. Above, smallholder farmer Maria Zuru in Zambia with her silo full of drought tolerant maize harvest, which thrived despite late and erratic rains.

Photo: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT

Margaret Chisangano of Chongwe District in Zambia’s Lusaka Province harvested and sold 25 tons of drought tolerant maize from her seven hectare plot in 2015, over three times the yield from the previous season. This year, she expects to double her yields. With the extra income, Margaret can feed her entire family and buy clothes, medicine and school supplies for her grandchildren.

Photo: Rodney Lunduka/ CIMMYT

Miriam Phiri, a farmer and mother of six based in Zambia’s Petauke District, started planting a DT maize variety in 2013 after a fellow farmer recommended it to her. Realizing she was getting a bigger yield from the DT variety than a local one, Miriam continued to plant it. Every season she plants 40 kilograms (90 pounds) of PAN 53, from which she harvested 45 50-kg bags in 2013. This was followed by yields of 35, 50 and 70 bags in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Photo: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT

Appolonia Marutsvaka, of Zaka District in Zimbabwe, shows off her drought tolerant and heat stress maize cobs harvested through a CIMMYT project.

Photo: Aniceto Matias/ CIMMYT

Fatima Meque, 20, lives in Nhamatanda District, located in Sofala Province, Mozambique. She married young, only managing to finish 8th grade before starting a family. A wife and mother of one, Fatima has diverse projects to support her husband to take care of their family. She plants drought tolerant maize on her farm – her biggest income earner – as well as sesame, millet and sorghum.

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