Preserving the environment in Africa and beyond

Women and young people have a critical role to play

Gender and technology are key components for cooperatives to address the issues of climate change in Africa and beyond, according to a panel at the ICA International Conference in Kigali, Rwanda.

At a plenary session looking at how coops are promoting the preservation of the environment, panellists shared their experiences and gave examples of how social stakeholders, such as women and youth, can play a critical role in achieving the climate action objectives set by the Agenda 2030. 

“Smallholder farmers produce 80% of the food we eat, and climate change will affect them most,” said Anna Tibbin from WeEffect Sweden, who chaired the session. “Coops are a powerful tool to combat climate change … but while philosophy and fact are helpful, what is needed most are examples of action so that we can learn from each other.”

“On the International Day of Rural Women (15 October), it’s time to acknowledge how cooperatives are enabling women and girls to build climate resilience,” said Elizabeth Mwiyeria of Vi Agroforestry, a Swedish development cooperation organisation which has offices in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Vi Forestry works with smallholder farmers, helping them to come together to build systems of governance and collective action.

“Smallholder farmers feed the world, yet these people are the ones affected by climate change, ”she added, “particularly women, for whom energy, food and water become a burden.”

Agroforesty is the process of deliberately planting trees, livestock and crops together on farming land, which improves biodiversity and helps to cushion farmers against the weather while contributing to reforestation. It can also help to mitigate soil erosion and flooding, said Ms Mwiyeria.

Agnes Mirembe, Team Leader and Executive Director, at Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE) in Uganda, highlighted that “any action – but especially climate action – will only be achieved if we put gender equality at the centre of the development agenda”.

She added: “Our climate is changing fast – 87% of recent disasters have been climate related, but there is a marked difference between the experiences of men and women in the aftermath of these disasters. 

“Who escapes, and how quickly? Who stays behind to look after the old and the vulnerable? Whose health, education and livelihoods fall through the cracks? Who gets raped on the way to find fresh water?”

Climate change affects women disproportionately, said Ms Mirembe, but although because of this they have a critical role as leaders and agents of change, “this is often overlooked in negotiations, investments and policies.” Under 25% of those working in renewable energy are women, even though they are usually the household energy managers.

She highlighted flagship projects in Uganda, where cooperatives are promoting environmental protection projects, biogas plants and sustainable and renewable solutions for their communities.  

Delegates also heard from Youssef Hosni, Director of the Development Office under the Ministry of Tourism, Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy in Morocco. The country has encouraged the formation of cooperatives over the last 15 years, and there are now over 22,000 coops with 525,000 members. 

There has been a surge of youth cooperatives operating in media, the arts, agriculture and crafts, in both urban and rural areas. The reason for this is twofold, he said: because of strong solidarity and know-how across the country, and a series of national schemes, such as the Vision 2025 and campaigns to raise awareness. 

He gave the example of forestry cooperatives; 7 million people have access to 9m hectares of forest in Morocco. Before 2000 there were problems with major exploitation and forested areas were being lost at an alarming rate. In 1998 the ministry adopted hugely successful national programme for the forests. “This had to involve everyone,” said Mr Hosni, “with all stakeholders working together in cooperatives. There was a change in paradigm. We had to ensure populations would be with us to help develop the forests.”

Today coops are thriving – and the Moroccan government has plans to grow the number of members from 500,000 to 1 million by 2030, by helping to establish 3,000 new cooperatives per year.

Kevins Randieks of Brand K Integrated Marketing and Communication Ltd, Kenya, called for young people to be integrated into conversations. “If the cooperative movement doesn’t create a model that will champion entrepreneurship and technological solutions that incorporate young people, then action against climate change will not be a possibility,” he warned. 

He believes the key is pushing technology in marginalised regions, where it can be used to champion gender equality too. “As generations are changing, cooperative organisations need to be cognisant of the fact that if gender equality can’t be achieved, it won’t be possible to address climate change either.”