Our Perspectives

In Africa, grassroots women tackle climate change


Member of Gatundu Mwirutiri Women Cooperative in KenyaOrganic vegetables grown for sale by members of the Gatundu Mwirutiri Women Cooperative in Kenya. Photo: UNDP in Kenya

Small, portable stoves that require only one piece of wood to prepare a meal, bio-gas digesters that turn cow dung into gas for cooking, and drip irrigation techniques to save water were among innovations shared by grassroots women leaders from Africa during a recent policy dialogue and learning exchange in Nairobi on building resilience to combat climate change and disaster.  

Organized by UNDP, Huairou Commission and GROOTS Kenya, the event brought together grassroots women leaders from 11 countries with policy makers from throughout Africa and representatives from the international community.

Throughout the three-day workshop, it became evident that grassroots women in communities in Africa are not waiting to be told how to cope with climate challenges, but are initiating, adapting and sharing innovations themselves.

“We have seen women mobilizing themselves before being mobilized,” said Isaac Kabongo, executive director of the Ecological Christian Organization in Uganda.  “Women are becoming the drivers of change in the communities in which they live, and are showing that they are very much willing to work together with all partners and institutions to move forward on the journey to resilience.”

The need for reliable, sustainable energy was a cross-cutting, common need, and was voiced by women from all the participating countries, which included Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal, Mozambique, Madagascar, Ghana and Tanzania.  In many rural communities in Africa, extreme deforestation is forcing women and girls to walk further and further to gather firewood for cooking, which leaves them with less time for education and income generation.

Women shared different ways they are coping with this – from using bio gas digesters to turn cow manure into gas to making “smokeless charcoal” out of vegetable peelings, grass, sand and mud.  

In many cases, grassroots women’s groups are adapting existing technologies to suit their circumstances.

The Katuba Women’s Association in Zambia, for example, was given energy-efficient steel stoves from Germany by an international NGO. Women throughout the local community learned to use the stoves, which demand very little firewood, and liked them. But at $200 each, the stoves were too expensive for the group to buy more. So the women’s association partnered with another organization to figure out how to make the stoves with locally available, affordable materials. The new stoves, which demand only a small fire made from twigs and branches, are made with clay and baskets that are insulated with banana leaves. They produce little smoke, cook food quickly and keep it warm for a long time.

“With these stoves, women can boil water in the evening, put it in the baskets, insulate them and by morning the water will still be hot so they don’t need to wake up early to boil water for their family to bathe,” said Florence Shakafuswa, the association’s  executive director. She said that after consulting with the local forestry department, the group also began growing trees that would regrow even after having small branches cut from them seasonally.  

In Kenya, the Gatundu Mwirutiri Women Cooperative has also adapted technology and uses local materials to make bio gas digesters. The group has made five digesters, has six under construction and wants to build a total of 700 for use in their community within the next two years.  The community’s investments in natural resource management also include tree planting and crop diversification. The work is supported by a pooling of resources among the cooperatives 1100 members and by GROOTS Kenya and Huairou Commission through the Community Resilience Fund, which focuses on reducing vulnerability to climate and disaster risks and losses in poor rural and urban communities.

For dealing with drought, the grassroots leaders shared experiences with such methods as building dams and water tanks to collect water during the rainy season and planting trees to restore river catchment areas and ecosystems.

The grassroots leaders and policy makers agreed that governments – from local to global levels – need to make greater effort to connect with and support grassroots women’s groups, whose practical experiences with solutions can help ensure that the policies being adopted by government will be well received and make a difference at the community level.

“Women must be visible and heard when policies are being implemented,” said Mutsa Dorothy Chasi, director general of the Environmental Management Agency of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate in Zimbabwe. “Governments want to succeed in dealing with these issues, and these success stories must be heard.”

Blog post Kenya Africa Climate change Climate change and disaster risk reduction Environment Renewable energy Zambia IGOs,CSO and NGOs Drylands and desertification Zimbabwe Water and sanitation

UNDP Around the world