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By: Liam Harrap

Degraded landscapes, lower soil fertility, drought, erosion, and flooding caused by climate change will be felt most acutely in developing countries, in part because of their dependence on agriculture for food and income. Increasing climate variability and change are expected to drastically reduce the harvests of key staple and commercial crops in Central America and are among the main threats affecting family farming livelihoods.

Climate-smart agriculture is an approach that aims to increase farmers’ resilience to climate change while improving food security and sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes. There is no universal application of climate-smart agriculture, rather it involves various elements embedded in local contexts, including actions on and off the farm, using new technologies, and incorporating policies. However, if climate smart projects are to succeed, “women will need to be promoted as agents of change,” says Sophia Huyer, the gender and social inclusion leader of CGIAR’s Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Program (CCAFS).

Although women in many developing countries play a critical role in farming, they don’t enjoy the same privileges and rights as men. For example, men typically rear the most profitable animals and grow the most valued crops, while women face many obstacles to own land and have the added responsibility of managing the household. In addition, women in developing countries have very little access to credit and loans, making it more difficult for them to buy fertilizer or improved seeds. They also tend to be more vulnerable than men to the effects of climate change because of their low incomes and limited access to education and technology.

An IDRC-supported CCAFS project is trying to encourage policy in developing countries that will recognize women as a valuable part of implementing climate-smart agriculture. To do so, the project is gathering evidence of how gender dynamics influence household priorities, capacities, and needs.

The project, which takes place in Guatemala and Nicaragua, includes a system-wide gender strategy to promote and strengthen women’s role in agriculture. “There needs to be attention paid to the fact that women are farmers in their own right,” says Huyer. Balancing the workloads and roles of women and men in agriculture is one issue that needs to be addressed, but so too are outdated agricultural technologies, such as handheld hoes, that tend to be used exclusively by women.

Huyer says there are still many challenges in promoting women in agriculture in developing countries and it can be difficult for women in some areas to break through social norms. In many cases, she says, if women’s farming practices are generating increased income, the men will take them over. Thus, it can be difficult to empower women without alienating other people in the community. “My approach is that you work with communities, not individuals,” says Huyer.

Building on an ongoing CGIAR research program on climate change, agriculture, and food security in Guatemala and Nicaragua, the project will identify which of the gender-sensitive climate smart agricultural options are being adopted, and why. It will also increase individual and organization-level capacities to plan for, access, and implement gender-sensitive climate smart agricultural interventions to increase climate and livelihood resilience.

Recommendations on social and gender-transformative climate smart agricultural strategies and mechanisms to empower women will also be produced for policy dialogue at both the regional and national levels. It is hoped that the evidence gathered in this project will later be expanded and applied elsewhere to empower women and increase agricultural output to fight climate change, poverty, and hunger.

Listen to Sophia Huyer's interview on Climate Change Talks.


Top image: IDRC / Atul Loke