In December, Fatima Ahmed, President of MADRE’s partner organization Zenab for Women in Development and founder of Sudan’s first women farmers union, attended the international conferences on climate change in Durban, South Africa. We interviewed her on the effects of climate change on women and on her community, how women are at the forefront of the fight against the climate crisis and what needs to be done at the conferences to secure meaningful solutions. Read her responses below:How has climate change impacted your community?Climate change has had a big impact on my community in Gadaref State, Sudan, which is the number one major production area of the staple foods for Sudan. It produces 75% of the sorghum and other cash crops like sesame, gum arabic, ground nut and millet. For years now, there have been fluctuations in the amount of precipitation we receive, and drought makes it very hard for the small scale farmers, including the women farmers, to grow their crops.The price of the sorghum has tripled in the last couple of years and is still going up. This has contributed to extreme poverty and malnutrition, not only in Gadaref State but in the whole Sudan. There have also been floods in some areas around the rivers and the tributaries of the Blue Nile.Also there has been a shift in the pattern of the seasons. Some areas like Khartoum, which is more at the North, now receive more rain than before, which affects the poor people who live in shanty houses who are not protected from this much rain. This current pattern and Mediterranean climate is very unusual for Sudan.How are women particularly affected by climate change?Women are more affected by these changes because they can’t produce enough food for their families, it is harder to find clean drinking water and the women who are pastoralists must travel long distances looking for water and grass for their animals. The overall outcome is that women become more vulnerable and live under extreme poverty.How are you helping communities adapt to the impacts of climate change?To adapt we are working with women farmers to learn new ways of planting, including using better tools for their land preparation. These tools go deep into the soil so the little precipitation we receive can be conserved for some time. We are also training women farmers to use more varied and improved seeds which better withstand drought, and also teaching them to learn simple techniques of water harvest, using crop rotation and weeding in a better way. We also encourage the women to plant trees as much as they can in their villages and not to cut the trees. We have dug water wells for women and their families in poor communities.How have women been leaders in this work?Women are very committed to finding solutions to this problem; this is why they are eager to get informed and to follow recommendations. They are trying very hard to cope with this problem and to adapt but they need much help in many ways.Moving forward, what do you hope to see accomplished at the UN Climate Change Conference? In other words, what do you think needs to be done by policy makers to protect women and their families from the climate crisis?The Cancun agreement provided real opportunities to advance global cooperation in adaptation, reforestation, climate change finance and technology transfer. If all opportunities within the Cancun Agreement are fully grasped, and parties take logical next steps, COP 17 could lay the ground work for a fair, ambitious and legally binding global climate change regime. If instead there is delay and lack of ambition, then we risk losing the chance to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and the world will face catastrophe. Poor communities and countries are already feeling the devastating impacts of the changing climate; without adequate mitigation, finance, technology and capacity building, their homes and livelihoods will be destroyed.
As famine struck East Africa, our partners at Womankind Kenya mobilized to provide emergency food and water to refugees. The members of the Women Farmers Union in Sudan, founded by MADRE's sister organization Zenab for Women in Development, wrote the following letter to the members of Womankind Kenya.
To Our Sisters at Womankind Kenya,We stand with you in this time of tragedy and hardship. As women farmers of Sudan, we know what it is like to wait months for rain and to watch our children grow hungry. Every year, when we plant our crops, our families depend on us. Without rain, we have no harvest – we have nothing.We made our Women Farmers Union so that we could support each other. Before that, the government did not recognize women farmers and gave tools, seeds and training only to the men. So we came together to share our resources and to demand that the government respect our rights.In eastern Sudan where we live, farming has always been part of our lives. But recently, the droughts have gotten worse, and they come more often. We had to adapt how we farm. This is because of climate change, a danger created mainly by those in the rich countries. Our friends at MADRE have helped us through the years, when the harvests have been good and also when the rains failed to come. They told us how refugee women and families are fleeing Somalia to Kenya. They told us that what you need are the resources to buy emergency food and water to help them live.And so we are sending you the money that we saved after our last harvest. Usually, we use these savings to improve our communities. Last year, we put a roof on the local school. But this year, your needs are greater than ours. We are able to send you this money because we joined together as women farmers and made ourselves stronger. We hope you will be able to use this gift to feed your children and strengthen yourselves as women. We send this to you with our blessings. As mothers and as farmers, the future depends on us.In solidarity,Fatima Ahmed, Director of Zenab for Women in Development & The Women Farmers UnionSudan
Just a few weeks ago, it rained in the communities of the Women Farmers’ Union in Sudan—welcome news! It has been a productive month, and we’d like to share some of the updates we’ve received from our partners at Zenab for Women in Development.With MADRE support, Zenab was able to purchase seeds for the upcoming planting season. Najla, a young woman leader with Zenab, oversaw the distribution of sesame, millet and sorghum seeds to over 2,000 women across 50 communities.What’s more, with your help, the Women Farmers’ Union was able to purchase a wide tractor disk to aid in plowing. Remember when we gave you the good news that they had bought a tractor? Now, with the new wide tractor disk, they will be able to increase their efficiency in harvesting crops even more. It will greatly cut back on the time it takes to plow.
In Sudan, most women farmers manually prepare land for the growing season. Tilling and seeding by hand is backbreaking work and extremely time consuming. It can take one woman several days to prepare just a tiny plot of land.
But thanks to MADRE member support, the Women Farmers Union, a project with our sister organization Zenab for Women in Development, has been able to purchase a tractor! Work that took them days by hand will now take only hours with the help of the tractor, which the many union members will share.
Now the farmers are working to purchase two tractor attachments: a planter and a disc harrow. The disc harrow allows for deeper plowing, giving plants more access to underground water sources. This is an important adaptation now that climate change is causing more droughts in Sudan.
In May, Zenab hosted 500 women for a General Assembly. Representing some 60 villages, this gathering allowed the women to learn from one another and plan their activities for the remainder of the year. The Women Farmers Union is the only organization of its kind in Sudan. As one woman farmer said after the General Assembly, “Zenab for Women in Development is the only one who helps us.”
As our partners prepare to plant this year’s crop of sorghum, millet and wheat, Zenab’s founder and director, Fatima Ahmed conveys her thanks: “MADRE members helped us buy this tractor. Thanks to you, more women will be able to feed their children this year and earn money for school fees, medicine and other basic needs.”
In 2008, MADRE and Zenab for Women in Development partnered to found Sudan’s first women farmer’s union. The goal of the Women Farmers Unite is to increase crop production in the rural Al Qadarif area of Sudan while conserving natural resources and empowering women farmers to gain access to tools, credit, and training opportunities usually reserved for men. The women are committed to farming organically and working together to promote an understanding of good nutrition and environmental preservation in their communities.
In 2010, Zenab was able to support six communities, a total of 496 women, to improve their agricultural processes. This support included seed distribution, land rental assistance, and improved plowing and harvesting techniques.
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