In Zambia, the weather is changing — the rainy season begins later in the year than it once did, and its duration is now unpredictable, creating confusion about the best time for planting, a U.S.-based farmer told delegates during a presentation delivered on the sidelines of the recent U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland.
“I often speak with women farmers around the world, and if I ask them what’s going on with climate change in their area, they give a puzzled look as if to say: ‘What does that mean?’” said Susan Carlson, chair of the World Farmers’ Organization (WFO) women’s committee.
“But the minute I ask them: ‘Has your weather changed?’ then I receive exuding responses.”
For example, the lack of a local forecasting or weather alert system for farmers in Zambia is emblematic of the great gaps that exist between the global research and development agenda and the farmer community, she said.
Women farmers in developing countries often face economic difficulties in part because they lack access to technology and technological know-how that can help them adapt to climate change, said Carlson, formerly a dairy farmer in the state of Wisconsin who now farms in the state of North Dakota in the northern United States with her husband, Robert.
At the global level, U.N. climate talks tend to be dominated by politicians, researchers, scientists, professors and academic scholars — there could be up to 600 people in a room making decisions for farmers, and yet they don’t really know what we need, Carlson said.
Women produce more than 50 percent of the world’s food, but earn only 10 percent of its income, she said. They own less than 2 percent of property, and receive a disproportionately low percentage of bank loans.
Women want to adapt to new ways of farming, but often lack access to technology and sufficient expertise to find out how they can benefit from it. Their traditional means of weather forecasting for planting and harvesting are no longer working as they once did.
A Zambian farmer told Carlson that she learns about new farm methods or marketing techniques from her credit facilitator when she visits him to take out a loan.
Women often struggle with poor literacy skills, which makes it impossible for them to apply for loans, as farm records are needed to secure credit. Carlson said. “Many need visual, simple explanations,” she added.
If one or two women farmers in a given region are shown how to adapt practices on their farms, and it proves successful it will be picked up by other farmers.
Changes in weather patterns have been so drastic in Zambia that the Zambian farmer said she had to move her vegetable production to higher ground as the area traditionally used was being flooded, Carlson said, adding that new insect varieties have also emerged.
Other examples of practices she has adopted to improve her yield include drip irrigation, incorporating manure and organic matter into her soil, reducing tillage, and planting more fruit and nut trees.
“Not only is she adapting to climate change, this Zambian farmer is mitigating the results of climate change by incorporating these practices,” Carlson said.
The difficulty of transporting crops to markets due to poor road conditions, the lack of storage and refrigeration, as well as the lack of capacity to process or preserve perishable crops when they are not sold at market, also make life challenging for many farmers, Carlson said
But with technology transfer, information sharing, and investments in farmers, particularly women farmers, these challenges can be overcome, she said, adding that policymakers, researchers, scientists, professors, academic scholars should listen to what women farmers have to say and respond to their needs while being mindful of their cultures.
“As science and understanding helps increase our knowledge we make changes to better improve our farming systems,” Carlson said.
Expert extension agents should be made available, and farm organizations helmed by women — and individual women — can help provide educational opportunities and empower women.
“We must look at our farms as a whole system not just production-focused and we change our systems as they need adjusting,” she said.
“The bottom line is that everyone wants a profit and farmers are no different. We shouldn’t apologize when we make a profit. To be a commercial farmer is not a bad thing — it comes at a cost, and everyone benefits from the food security we provide — remember, no farmers, no food, no future.”
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