My name is Esnath and I am a climate game changer in Zimbabwe. As a member of the CAMFED Association, sustainable agriculture expert and entrepreneur, I am a role model to girls and young women in my community who aspire for a brighter future as leaders in climate action. I am a passionate advocate for girls’ education and I have experienced first hand the barriers girls face in staying in school.
I was born and raised in rural Zimbabwe as the youngest of six children. Both of my parents came from disadvantaged backgrounds, and had to drop out of education after primary school. They strove for better opportunities for us, and worked on a commercial farm to make ends meet. However, due to financial and social pressures, my four older sisters married at an early age, and only one completed her education. My father later lost his job when I had just completed my Grade 7 (primary school leaving) exams, and I was distraught at the prospect that my education would come to a premature end.
I was determined to stay in school, and my parents did everything they could to support my education. A significant barrier I faced, and one that is felt by many girls in rural sub-Saharan Africa, was the distance I had to walk to and from school each day. As my school was over six km (nearly four miles) away, I had to leave early in the morning when it was still dark. My parents understood the importance of girls’ education, so they would walk with me in the mornings to ensure I got there safely and then my father would come and collect me along my way home so I didn’t have to walk alone. My father showing up each day to support me on my path to a brighter future as an educated young woman meant a lot to me and we have been best friends ever since.
Me with my parents at my cricket farm in Marondera, Zimbabwe. (Photo: BBC)
By that time my father was working as a subsistence farmer and used the little savings he had to start a farm and pay for my first classes at secondary school. However, he struggled to cover the extra costs that came with progressing to secondary level in Zimbabwe, such as school and exam fees, uniform and stationery and menstrual products.
Staying in school became particularly challenging from the age of 12 when I had my first period. In rural Zimbabwe, most families live on less than US $1.90 a day, which can also be the cost of a single pack of pads. I, like most girls in my class and school, couldn’t afford adequate menstrual products and had to use unconventional material. It made my long walk to and from school extremely uncomfortable and often painful, and it made me a target for bullies.Some of my friends would not come to school at least three days a month due to the bullying and failing to concentrate, and some friends of mine ended up dropping out completely.
Just as I was losing hope, CAMFED stepped in to provide not only financial but also psycho-social support, throughout the rest of my time at school. From that moment I felt that I was surrounded by a safety net of community members, all looking out for my education and well-being. This included a local Mother Support Group, and members of the CAMFED Association—young women with a similar background to myself, who had been supported through education by CAMFED. Looking back, it was their efforts to safeguard me and other vulnerable children in the community that has inspired me to do the same.
On completing secondary school in 2006, I joined the CAMFED Association and volunteered my time doing community outreach and delivering life-skills training. However, navigating life post-secondary school was very difficult. At that time Zimbabwe was experiencing an economic crisis, with extreme hyperinflation and an unemployment rate of 80% or more. So in 2008, when I was just 20 years old, I left home in search of paid work and better opportunities in Botswana. I was scared because I had no job lined up for when I arrived, and only a small amount of money that my father had given me for the bus journey there and accommodation for a week. But I felt it was the only option to support myself and my family.
In Botswana I worked in a range of low-paid jobs, including a babysitter, a maid and a mathematics tutor. The work I found was so unstable and unreliable, I decided to return home to my family in Zimbabwe. Experiences like mine have fed directly into CAMFED’s work to offer more comprehensive support to graduates to transition to secure work and be able to stay in their communities.
On my return, I got married to my husband, Lameck, who is also from a disadvantaged background and was supported by CAMFED. I continued volunteering in my community as a CAMFED Association member whilst also taking accounting classes. I was applying to study accounting and entrepreneurial studies at university in the hope of helping smallholder farmers like my father to run their businesses more effectively. Whilst I was able to secure a place on several courses, I didn’t get a scholarship so couldn’t afford to go. However, I never gave up on my dreams of higher education, and through the CAMFED Association network, I would later go on to achieve this.
When CAMFED launched the Learner Guide Program in Zimbabwe, they employed me as a Core Trainer of CAMFED Learner Guides. My role was to train my fellow CAMFED Association sisters in delivering mentorship and life-skills to secondary school students. Part way through my time as a Core Trainer, an amazing opportunity arose through CAMFED’s partnership with the Mastercard Foundation to apply for a scholarship to study Agricultural Sciences at EARTH University in Costa Rica.
I was so happy to be accepted onto the course. I knew that gaining agricultural expertise combined with my background in accounting would put me in an excellent position to help smallholder farmers in my community to thrive.
My mother-in-law is a huge champion of the CAMFED Association and when I told her my news she got up and started dancing in the kitchen! She called my sisters-in-law to come to the house and we had a big celebration. I was still facing some challenges such as child-care for my young son, but my family was so proud of me and encouraged me to go and fulfill my potential. That August, I set off for Costa Rica and became the first person in my village to study abroad.
Here I am with a fellow student, during my Agricultural Science studies at EARTH University, Costa Rica.
During my degree I maintained close contact with my community at home. I sent messages to my former secondary school to inspire younger girls to pursue education and leadership opportunities. During vacations I would share my story with girls to show them that no matter the background they come from, they have the power to achieve their dreams.
I’ve seen first hand the effects of climate change on rural farming communities. During my studies at EARTH University, I came to understand the potential of climate-smart agriculture to combat climate shocks and build community resilience.
Between August and December 2018, I was given an opportunity as part of my studies to share this new knowledge through an internship with ADRA Zimbabwe, a local humanitarian agency, focusing on resilient livelihoods. I worked with farmers who practice horticulture, apiculture (beekeeping), grow small grains and keep small livestock, giving technical advice, training them on sustainable farming methods, and assisting them to look for high value markets for their produce.
With my CAMFED Association sisters, I help other women to move from subsistence farming to running successful agribusinesses.
Me (left) during my internship with ADRA Zimbabwe, working with farmers to implement sustainable methods.
I also planned and monitored exchange visits, to support farmers to learn from one another, and developed a short manual on pest management and conservation agriculture, tailored for the community of Zvishavane where the training took place.
Just after completing my degree in December 2019, I represented CAMFED at COP25, accepting a UN Global Climate Action Award on behalf of our young women leaders for the innovative Climate-Smart Agriculture Guide Program. This was a huge moment, and to accept this award on behalf of our CAMFED sisterhood felt like a dream come true.
Here I am speaking at COP25 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: UN Climate Change/Andreas Budiman)
On my return to Zimbabwe, I started working with CAMFED on the expansion of its Climate-Smart Agriculture Guide program, introducing innovative methods for soil conservation, irrigation, fertilization, pest management and agroforestry, many of which build on and extend indigenous knowledge of the interaction between local species, local climate, and the larger ecosystem. By teaching agricultural practices that work in harmony with the environment, I aim to support more young women into sustainable agri-preneurship.
I am also advocating for the education of women and girls as central to improving rural communities, as well as leading to a more sustainable future for the entire planet. Women are the leaders in production at household level, and in the CAMFED Association at large, around one in three of members work in agriculture. Therefore, it is especially crucial that women feel empowered with climate-smart knowledge in order to increase productivity, leading to more food secure households and ensuring the next generations of girls can be financially supported through school.
I am passionate about combating malnutrition in my community. In Zimbabwe and many other areas of sub-Saharan Africa, crickets and other insects are a traditional and highly nutritious food source available in the wild at certain times of the year. I could see there was a gap in the market for a low-cost, low-carbon, and low-water use protein source, and edible crickets were the perfect fit. So in 2020 I set up my first insect farm in Marondera, in order to produce edible crickets all year round.
We produce insects in the most sustainable way with the least amount of waste. The production unit is made of mostly recycled materials, like old supermarket cardboard packaging, and the only byproduct from production called ‘frass’ (cricket manure), we use to fertilize vegetables which then go back to feed the crickets. It’s a really sustainable, circular production system.
I truly believe insects are the future of protein. Not only are they much cheaper and less intensive to produce than other livestock, they contain more protein per gram than meat. I knew this venture could greatly improve nutrition in Zimbabwe, and wanted to expand cricket production, so I began training local Mother Support Groups. I have since founded an organization called Glorified Community Empowerment Trust (GCET), which trains insect farmers in rural communities in Marondera and Nyanga. My model sees each trained lead farmer go on to train an additional five farmers, quickly scaling up production and reaching hundreds of children and families at risk of malnutrition.
I also have big plans for the future of my business, providing insect-based snacks to local schools. I want to see insect production scaled to other regions of Zimbabwe and across Africa.
Through my organization, GCET, I am so happy to be able to give back to my community members. Thanks to their vigilance I was selected for CAMFED support, and they continue to look out for my well-being. With support from CAMFED and my community, I am able to fulfill my potential as a climate-smart agriculture expert. I am multiplying the benefits of my education and helping other girls go to school.
In 2022, I was accepted as a Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program-EARTH University Graduate Fellow, to focus on entrepreneurship and personal development, and decided to continue my education journey by studying for a Master’s degree in Global Food Security and Nutrition with the University of Edinburgh.
With my CAMFED Association sisters, we are showing that inclusive, quality education — in the classroom and beyond — is key to the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals, from gender equality to climate action, from zero hunger to poverty eradication. Together, we are game changers!
Esnath Divasoni, CAMFED Association leader and climate-smart agriculture expert from Zimbabwe explains how girls' education can lead to climate action, helping rural communities to mitigate the impact of climate change and grow a more sustainable future.
African women leading climate action – CAMFED’s UN award at COP25
CAMFED was one of four awardees in the ‘Women for Results’ category, for young women’s grassroots action on climate change in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Esnath Divasoni, a CAMFED Association leader and Agriculture Guide, and Catherine Boyce, CAMFED Director of Enterprise Development, were delighted to accept the award on behalf of all in our movement.
BBC Podcast: '39 Ways to Save the Planet – Educating and Empowering Girls'
Sustainable agriculture expert and entrepreneur Esnath invites podcast host Tom Heap to her cricket production unit in Marondera, Zimbabwe, to explore high-protein insects as a climate-smart solution to food insecurity. Drawing on her own education journey, they discuss girls’ education as a way to tackle the climate crisis.
BBC 'On Your Farm' visits Esnath's sustainable protein (cricket) farm
In this episode of BBC Radio 4’s ‘On Your Farm,’ Charlotte Ashton visits Sustainable Agriculture Expert and entrepreneur Esnath and her family for a tour of their cricket farm in Zimbabwe to find out more about high-protein insects as a climate-smart solution to food insecurity.
Reuters’ Ethical Corporation Magazine on Esnath's climate activism
Mark Hillsdon profiles sustainable agriculture expert and entrepreneur Esnath for an article featured in Reuters’ Ethical Corporation Magazine on the importance of girls’ education in growing climate-smart agriculture.
Al Jazeera: A feature on Esnaths's sustainable protein production in rural Zimbabwe
Read more about Esnath’s education journey with CAMFED in this in-depth Al Jazeera article by Veronique Mistiaen. Find out how she now pays her education forward by training CAMFED Agriculture Guides in climate-smart techniques to improve productivity and their livelihoods.
Panel chaired by Julia Gillard: Women’s leadership in climate action
Esnath joins a panel of climate activists and experts chaired by CAMFED Patron Julia Gillard, to discuss the key levers that can be used to proactively promote women’s leadership in all aspects of climate action.