Women in Africa Leading Climate Action - Video Transcript

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Emily Zemke, Director of Development, CAMFED International So welcome, everybody. And it’s lovely to see you all here today. And thank you very much for joining our conversation here about women leading climate action in sub-Saharan Africa. My name is Emily Zemke and then I’m the Director of Development at CAMFED International.

As you know, in 2019, CAMFED received a UN Global Climate Action Award in recognition of our young women’s leadership for Climate-smart agriculture. As we prepare for attendance at COP26, which will be held in the UK later this year, we wanted to take the time to bring you into a conversation with two of our alumni about why girls education is one of the most powerful ways to tackle the climate emergency.

And before we start, I’m just going to share a couple of housekeeping notes. We welcome you to join us on camera. If you’re comfortable doing so, we are recording today’s conversation and we’ll be sharing it with you afterwards. We’ve allowed about 15 minutes after our conversation for questions, but please do go ahead and add questions if you have them into the chat box so that we can pick them up and respond to them during our discussion.

I’m delighted to kick start with an introduction to my colleague Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development at CAMFED International. Over to you, Catherine.


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thank you so much, Emily, and it’s really lovely to be here with everyone today. We’re hoping just to have a really informal and insightful conversation and just so delighted to be joined by two members of our CAMFED Association. So, you’ll see them on screen, both Rufaro Chokera and Forget Shareka. They’re both from Zimbabwe. They’re both leading climate action in quite different ways and drawing upon their education to do so. So, I have the privilege of being here and having a conversation with them.

Just a little bit of an introduction to myself. I’ve been with CAMFED now for about 12 years, so I’ve seen us grow quite a lot over that time, which has been a real privilege. And we’ve increasingly learned as an organization just how critical that connection between livelihoods and climate resilience really is. So, it’s a real growing area of our work.

But I would love now to hand over to members of the CAMFED Association and maybe I can start with Forget. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience with CAMFED to date.


Forget Shareka, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Thank you so much, Catherine. Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to the viewers and everyone in this house. So, my name is Forget Shareka. I am a CAMFED Association member from Zimbabwe. Currently I’m based here in Edinburgh where I’m doing my master’s in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Edinburgh. I have a background in agricultural sciences and most of the work I do revolves around climate change advocates, entrepreneurship, agriculture, women and youth empowerment. Thank you so much, Catherine.


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thank you so much Forget and Rufaro, would you like to introduce yourself as well, please?


Rufaro Chokera, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Thank you so much, Catherine. My name is Rufaro Chokera, a CAMA member from Zimbabwe and currently I’m in Zimbabwe. I’ve been awarded a fellowship program whereby I’m hosted by CAMFED, and I work as a Climate-smart Agriculture Fellow, where I train other young women in different districts pertaining to Climate-smart agriculture issues. And I am a recent graduate of Earth University in Costa Rica whereby I hold a degree in Agricultural Sciences. Thank you.


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thank you so much, Rufaro. So just to share a little bit of context about our work in the Climate-smart space. You know, one thing to bear in mind is that CAMFED works in particularly rural communities and the countries where we work are largely agrarian economies. And what we hear from the women and the communities where we work is that climate change is already and has for several years been having a direct effect on livelihoods, on food security, and on well-being. 

And that translates to a huge number of knock-on effects, which particularly affect girls and women. And I think Rufaro and Forget will talk more about those as well. But, in putting this in the global context, historically, there’s been a lot of conversation, as many of you will be aware, around mitigation. So, mitigation is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and of course, that is absolutely vital that we all get behind.

But there has been less focus and less money and finance on the other side, which is adaptation and mitigation. Sorry, adaptation and resilience. So, adapting to the effects of climate change that are already being felt in the poorest communities. And so CAMFED really wants to shine a spotlight on both the urgent need for adaptation and resilience efforts, which are a key focus actually of COP26, which is coming up, and really demonstrate how educated women are leading that action both for adaptation and resilience now, but also in the longer term for a more sustainable pathway to a sustainable and prosperous future.

And putting this in context. If you think about the change that’s required, one person, for example, in the United States produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as 155 people in Malawi. So, you can see that focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa isn’t the first priority there, the first priority has to be to help communities to adapt to the effects of climate change and build prosperous livelihoods despite those challenges.

And so we’re going to talk a bit today about one of CAMFED’s initiatives in response, which is working with members of the CAMFED Association, our alumni network, to actually play a pioneering and leadership role in their rural communities, to disseminate, tried and tested Climate-smart techniques, often drawing upon traditional and indigenous techniques so traditional knowledge, as well as new innovations for very simple techniques, things like affordable drip irrigation or intercropping supplanting two complementary crops on the same plots of land or agroforestry. So weaving protection of trees into your use of the land as well as composting and mulching to preserve nutrients in the soils.

I’m sure Rufaro in particular will talk more about some of these techniques, but by disseminating these techniques, and particularly by showcasing these techniques on their own smallholdings, CAMFED Association members who are so trusted in their communities because they’re based in the communities living there and demonstrating these techniques on their own farms to build in confidence among people, to actually adopt and apply those techniques themselves.

And we’re hearing how that’s translating into increased yields into among parent support groups who are using these techniques, increased ability to provide school meals to vulnerable children. And it’s also even creating new jobs on agriculture enterprises. So, it’s a really powerful series of effects, and we really want to give you an opportunity to hear directly from the women leading this movement.

So, on that note, I would really like to hand over to Forget, just to perhaps share a bit of your experience, Forget, about what climate change means in your community, where you grew up and where you’re based now, and particularly how you’re seeing it affect girls and women. Thank you.


Forget Shareka, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Thank you so much, Cathryn. I’m so happy that we are having these discussions at the right time. Right now, like it is, we are sitting here, and the scientists have put the evidence out that carbon emission levels have increased up to 240 parts per million. So, we are still far from achieving the goal of the climate drawdown.

So just to give a bit of background on how the climate change is affecting women and the girl child, be it that in Zimbabwe and where I am right now, and also I would speak specifically in the language from where I come from, from the rural communities, because those people do not have such kind of space like we are having today to come forward and speak about the reality of things happening.

So just a bit of background, looking into agriculture, 70% of the food that we eat every day is being produced by small holder farmers. And most of those smallholder farmers are women, which most of the time, are invisible. And their voices are not heard and most of them are not in the boardrooms where these issues of climate change that affect them are being discussed. So, there is a lot of hurricanes and droughts, floods happening.

So, in such kind of disasters linked to climate change, you know, a woman where I come from is someone who holds the community together, is the family keeper. So, when there is a hazard, the woman will stay behind, looking for the family, looking for the children, making sure that the community is safe. So that causes a lot of risk to them. Like just imagine in case of a flood happening. A woman who stayed behind holding the children, not only one, maybe three of them, trying to protect them, they’ll get injured. So, they are more vulnerable to such kind of things.

Also, still on droughts, most of the farmers’ income, which are women, comes from agriculture. So, if the effects of climate change heat had on them, this really means that they will not have like a decent earning which affects their standard of living, which affects their ability to send the children to school. Still on that, if things like floods happen or the hurricanes happen, most of the times the schools get destroyed. It means that a boy and a girl child, both of them, they will be out of school.

And to add on that. If there are risks, like droughts or floods, after people will be dislocated. And when people are dislocated, it means that women will end up in indecent shelters, where a lot of unreported abuses are happening, ending up in the street, like being prostitutes to fend for their children. And the girls are at risk of being raped in those improper shelters.

And when the mother is out looking for food, looking for firewood, looking for water, which is one of the challenges due to climate change. When climate change is happening, water sources dry up and women have to walk a long way to find water so that obligates a girl child to stay behind, to stay home looking after his siblings and taking away like their time to study. And perhaps that kind of girl drops out of school.

So, I believe climate change is affecting women, girls, a lot and it’s time for us to take action. And taking climate action is a collective responsibility. What are you doing today to ensure that tomorrow will be safe for all of us? Thank you, Catherine. I give the mic back to you.


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thank you. Thank you, Forget for those such powerful remarks about the effects of climate change on girls and women. And Rufaro, we would love to hear from you as well about your experience of climate change and what it means in your community. Thank you.


Rufaro Chokera, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Thank you so much, Catherine, for giving me such a platform to share about climate change in my community. Well, I loved hearing from Forget because we kind of share the same ordeal. I founded Green Light, an organization which operates in Buhera. And to provide some context, Buhera District, where I am from, is one of the most drought-stricken areas in Zimbabwe and each and every year we experience inconsistent rains which significantly reduce farm yields.

Climate change has impacted our society in various forms, but I consider water deficit as the most adverse effect of climate change because water scarcity is a real problem for communities like mine. And droughts caused by climate change are only heightening the negative impacts on farmers productivity. Insufficient water means that crops cannot grow, leading to food insecurity in many poor communities. And what is disheartening mostly is that whenever we experience droughts, ladies and girls have to walk long miles to look for water to supply their households.

In my community, it is considered as the role of women to provide water. This gives ladies a more burden, and it puts them at a disadvantage because they bear the brunt of walking long miles in search of water for household uses. And this exposes women and young girls to several risks, such as sexual exploitation. And it also affects their normal life routines. And in most cases, girls are obligated to stay at home, and they have to miss their classes like they don’t have to attend if they have to do extra house chores.

And as Forget mentioned, it is a collective responsibility to act right now so that we reduce the impact of climate change in our communities. And also, it is mostly important to empower ladies and women especially, and my community say that they will have knowledge on how to tackle issues that they are facing right now in the face of climate change. Therefore, the Green Life Organization that I founded, it helps ladies and women to have water for household use through incorporating modern and traditional technologies that reap up the life, the groundwater and provide water to at least 17 families in my community. Thank you.


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thank you so much Rufaro and really wonderful to hear about what you’re doing through Green Life. And I think what you’ve both done is you’ve shown perhaps some of the complexity that perhaps isn’t widely known about the connections and the causes and the interconnections between climate change and education and the well-being of women and girls and whole communities, the effects of climate change on food security, the effects on girls ability to go to school, the particular vulnerability of girls and women in the weather related disasters caused by climate change, and also the burden on women in terms of that labor of collecting increasingly scarce firewood and water resources and the knock on effects for their well-being, their business and agricultural productivity and also, of course, their time as children to study.

So, I think what you’ve helped do there is just show how interconnected and how powerful all these forces are that are at play. And one thing that that CAMFED Association members, yourselves included, of course, are doing in response is the is through the Agriculture Guide program really building resilience in communities to the effects of climate change, building understanding both of the problem and some techniques that communities, particularly smallholder farmers, can engage in in response.

And just to give a sense of the scope and scale Emily mentioned at the start that we’ve actually won the UN Global Climate Action Award in recognition of this work and the tremendous power it represents for achieving change at scale. And we’re of course incredibly proud of that award. But we’ve reached over 11,000 people across rural African communities to date, and the scale up, the acceleration of reach is very fast. So, I know the team in Zimbabwe are expecting to reach at least 50,000 people over the next two years. We’re also envisioning at the top of that cascade in the sort of the agricultural guides and the women who supported as Agripreneurs, 50,000 women, supported to grow thriving agricultural enterprises that are Climate-smart over the coming five years.

So, we have big ambitions to scale. And having shared some of that context, I would very much appreciate, Forget and Rufaro, if you could share a bit more information from your personal experiences about, you know, the work of Agricultural Guides and also how your education is enabling you to play a leadership role in the climate space. So over to you Forget, in the first instance, thank you.


Forget Shareka, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Okay. Thank you so much. I’m so happy and grateful that I was supported by CAMFED throughout my secondary school finding scholarship to go to university. Because of such kind of education I received, I’m so empowered and because I’m educated and I have a voice, that’s why today I’m here speaking on behalf of those who can’t be on spaces like these. So that’s how education has enabled us, like us CAMFED Association sister’s beneficiaries to tackle climate change issues. Because if I wasn’t educated, I wouldn’t be here speaking to you.

So going back to the first part of the question, I’m so happy that as I mentioned, CAMFED really helped me with education, and I had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica University. I studied agricultural sciences and with the knowledge that I gained from Earth University, I came back home where I found my own business. And that works to improve food storage, which is a very big issue in the African continent, in the Asian, in the Caribbeans. And that also it has detrimental effects linked to climate change as we all know that when food decays, it releases methane.

So, methane is a very dangerous gas that is 28 times more harmful than carbon. So, through Chashi food, let me just maybe tell you what is Chashi food, so Chashi food is a social minded and environmentally friendly enterprise that supports rural farmers with no access to market in Zimbabwe gate market and we process the food. Different types of fruits, bananas, pineapples, tomatoes and vegetables are trying to reduce the post-harvest loss and enlarge like increasing shelf life of those commodities while contributing to food security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So, we through Chashi with my partners, we work directly with farmers and arranging like fair trade space to buy from the farmers so that they earn a decent income, a decent return from their hard work. So, through the Agriculture Guide program as CAMFED Association we have different graduates joining that movement, going to the communities where we work, with those rural farmers which are mostly affected by climate change adversities.

So like the CAMA guide, the CAMA Agriculture Guide program, trainers like Rufaro will go to the community, train people, they listen to the people, they tap into the indigenous knowledge that those people have and try to combine it with modern techniques, smart climate techniques, such as drip irrigation and they integrate that with that with the agribusiness aspect because it’s not all about farming, it’s all about farming and having somewhere to sell their produce. And we have been tapping into that also like business opportunity, combining it with climate smart action in agriculture, agriculture techniques and the returns the CAMA members and those farmers we support in the community get is going back in education. So that’s like also another like sort of multiplier effect that they are going to train people, people like after trained, they gain knowledge.

They build resilience, adapt to climate change and have an opportunity to put back girls in school. Also, as women, through that same program, we can proudly say that CAMFED managed to develop a stove which we call Patsari. So this Patsari stove is a type of stove which is more efficient so that reduces a burden of a woman going out to fetch firewood and on the other hand, also reduces the greenhouse emissions. So that’s a little bit, we are doing a lot and we can spend the whole day talking about it. So over to you, Catherine. 


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thank you so much Forget for those inspirational examples and Rufaro, we would love to hear from you as well, the same question, your work with Agricultural Guides and also how your education is enabling you to play this critical role. Over to you Rufaro.


Rufaro Chokera, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Thank you, Catherine. There is a saying that says that “Education is a tool of transformation.” Well, I strongly agree because I was funded by CAMFED throughout my high school and I was also helped to acquire a scholarship which sent me to Costa Rica, where I attended at university and graduated with a degree in agricultural sciences. This transformed me, I gained knowledge, which is now helping me to help my community and put those things that I learned in practice.

To be specific, at university, I took courses and participated in programs which were centered on five pillars of sustainability. These are waste management, energy efficient, water management, carbon neutrality and alternative clean energies. So, after graduating last year in 2020, I returned home to Zimbabwe, determined to share what I have learned with my community. And I found my organization, which which is a social enterprise called Green Life. And at Green Life, we aim to reduce waste by using residue from crop production, such as maize stalks for composting, which is then used in the production of mushrooms, and to make sure that to provide affordable nutrition for families around us.

To provide some little context, maize is a staple food across Zimbabwe, and to be specific, in Bohera, where I come from. However, due to the extreme temperatures that we have in Bohera, maize doesn’t do well and at Green Life, we make sure that we encourage farmers and other young people in the community to produce small grains which are drought resistant, such that to ensure food security and also nutritional values.

Currently I’m working as a Climate-smart Agriculture Fellow, and I’m also a lead trainer for the Agriculture Guide program in Zimbabwe under the CAMFED organization. And I’m a proud CAMA member, CAMFED Association alumnae, and in this capacity as a agriculture lead trainer, I work with young, forgotten female farmers across their 29 districts, which partner with CAMFED, and we aim to devise solutions to the problems that women typically face, especially with climate change.

Some of the pressing issues include lack of information which will enable them and their production system to adapt to the harsh effects of climate change. Therefore, as their leader I provide information simply and connect them to market development opportunities and also I help them to look for projects that suit their environment. For example, in Bohera, whereby I have mentioned that we have extreme temperatures. So, it is good to practice livestock farming instead of crop production. So, we encourage businesses that are centered on goat farming, poultry and rabbits.

And also as an Agriculture Guide trainer, I am privileged to have an opportunity to work with young women. It is that they use their locally found resources to use said that they don’t have like the effect of not having resources and this helps them to counter the effects of climate change. For example, in Zimbabwe right now, many rural farmers, they face the challenges of not having resources and they lack fertilizer. So as agriculture lead trainers, we help them to produce liquid fertilizers through the use of wastes like manure from poultry and also from goats. And also we help them to devise, to implement things which are really practical that they are doing currently, and we help them to counter the effect of climate change. And this experience is deeply rewarding since we are together driving grassroots action on climate change.

The women smallholders I support live on margins of society and have been mostly impacted by extreme weather supporting the productivity of their smallholders. They have several knock-on benefits, such as reducing likelihood of cutting down forests and for agriculture. Another benefit is that with the increased productivity comes economic resilience, which means increase the decision-making power for themselves and ability to support their children’s education. And these trained young leaders will also be able to train other people in the community helping us to reach the 50,000 target. Thank you. Over to you, Catherine.


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thank you so much, Rufaro. And I can see that some questions are coming in. So, I would just say that I want to allow time for those questions and that conversation.

But I just want to say, we’ve heard from two CAMFED Association members today. There are so many women we could have invited to this discussion, whether Esnath, with her sustainable nutrition insect business in Zimbabwe or Dorcas, who’s innovating with a combination of bamboo and aquaculture, or, for example, Cindy in Ghana, who’s introduced a second growing season by using affordable greenhouse technology in northern Ghana. So, so many examples of innovation and entrepreneurship and climate activism across the CAMFED Association.

But I feel like we should allow some time now for the conversation and questions. I’ve seen some coming in in the chat. So back to you, Emily, to share those questions with us. And thank you all.


Emily Zemke, Director of Development, CAMFED International Thanks very much, Catherine, and thanks, everybody, for sharing some initial questions. So, we’ll kick off with one here from Jane. Forget, what does your enterprise do with the produce it buys from the farmers and where is it sold?


Forget Shareka, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Okay. So, thank you. That’s a very good question. As I mentioned, we buy the produce, the fruit and vegetables. And we try extending shelf life up to 12 months. And the fruit snacks that we produce, we sell them in the local market. And recently we got engaged with the UNDP under the school feeding program. So, we are supplying Kambuzuma Primary School in Harare with 1500 kids. So, we supply them with the dried fruits. So instead of kids eating like unhealthy snacks, they eat our fruit snacks. And I can also share our website, we also have a shop online but only functional in Zimbabwe.


Emily Zemke, Director of Development, CAMFED International Thank you, Forget, I appreciate your response there. And we have another one in the chat. Interesting that Forget and Rufaro had to go all the way to Costa Rica to get their agricultural degrees. Aren’t there good institutions in Africa that offer similar education? And what do you have to say to that, either of you? And Catherine.


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Well, maybe I’ll chip in first, Emily, because that’s a really good point. And actually, there are very good institutions across Africa, and many of our CAMFED Association members have studied there, whether it’s the University of Lilongwe in Malawi, which focuses on agriculture, or University of Sokoine in Tanzania, which focuses on also on agriculture or indeed our partner university that’s collaborating so closely with us on Climate-smart demonstration farm in Zambia, that’s called the Kapasa Makasa University, and that’s based in Chinsali.

So, it’s a really good question. As it happens, both Forget and Rufaro studied at Earth University. We have scholarships for a small number of CAMFED Association members to study there, and I think one of the powerful elements of the model is they cascade their knowledge to so many thousands of other people. But also we have CAMFED Association members studying at very good quality institutions across Africa as well. It’s a great question.


Forget Shareka, CAMFED Association Member, Zimbabwe Okay. So maybe just to add on using the experience of Costa Rica, Earth University has a different education model. They really value experiential learning, and they go by the mantra we learn by doing. So that is the kind of education that we need when it comes to solving problems like the climate change we are facing today. It doesn’t just require theories. It just requires people to do so much practical.

So, the other good part of Earth University, they have an emphasis on community development. And as students at the university, you have the opportunity to go and work with the people, work with the farmers in the community. So that gives you exposure. And that’s a good opportunity, you know, to learn to empower yourself and we need that kind of knowledge, we need that kind of experience back at home where we come from. So, the education model is good. It complements theory and practical. So that makes 60% of the whole material practical and which makes it easy when you are going to face challenges in terms of implementation. Thank you.


Emily Zemke, Director of Development, CAMFED International Thank you. Forget. And we’ve got amazingly, I’m running up on time already. So, I’m going to have one more question, which I think is possibly for you, Catherine, in the first instance, which is how are we, how is CAMFED participating in COP26?


Catherine Boyce, Director of Enterprise Development, CAMFED International Thanks, Emily. So, the UK Government has organized regular consultations with civil society and youth groups. These are convened by the Cabinet Office of the Government. So, they have monthly meetings, which CAMFED participates in. But also, we’re hoping to have an active, very active role at COP itself.

We’ve supported CAMFED Association members to apply for a number of opportunities, both a youth summit really to help shape the dialog and the policy discussion that we don’t yet know, of course, if these events are going to be virtual or held in physical locations. But we’ve supported seven CAMFED Association members to represent their countries at that youth summit and we’ve also applied to participate in a roundtable at COP itself. We’re still waiting to hear which of those opportunities if or we’ve been successful with. But in the meanwhile, we’re engaging in those monthly consultations and planning meetings. Thank you.


Emily Zemke, Director of Development, CAMFED International Thanks, Catherine. So, I think that roughly now brings us to time. So, I’ll just take the opportunity before signing off to thank everybody very much for participating and Rufaro, you said at some point earlier in our conversation that education is a tool of transformation and you and Forget both really personify that transformation. And I personally find it so enlightening, but also really humbling to hear about your huge commitment to helping your communities and to sharing these knowledges and practices with others.

So many thanks indeed, from all of us on this call for all you do. And thank you, Catherine, for joining the conversation, and to everyone from various corners of the globe today who’ve come together to hear about the impact that your support is having on the amazing work that you’re making possible through alumni on the ground. We will share the video in the next few days and look forward to reconnecting with you all in follow up. Thank you again for joining us and we’ll see you soon.

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