Climate Change Adaptation Requires Gender Inclusion
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The impacts of climate change on agriculture can differ widely depending on a variety of factors, including the region of production, crop variety, and availability and use of inputs like fertilizers and irrigation. Gender can also play a large role in how individuals both experience and respond to climate change. Since gender norms often at least partially establish individuals’ social status, rights, and responsibilities, it is likely that men and women face different constraints and opportunities and will make different decisions when it comes to adapting to climate change. Understanding these gender-driven differences can help policymakers enact programs that meet the needs of the whole population, rather than just a portion.

In a project paper released by IFPRI and the CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), researchers explore how gender affects people’s perception of and adaptation to climate change in Kaffrine, Senegal. Both men and women were asked about their perceptions of short-term weather shocks within the last five years and long-term changes in weather patterns. Perceptions of recent weather shocks were generally similar; 20 percent of both men and women reported experiencing floods within the last five years, and 10 percent of both men and women reported erratic rainfall. However, people’s perceptions of long-term weather patterns seemed to differ. Eighty-six percent of men said that they had observed changing weather patterns over the course of their lifetime, as opposed to 65 percent of women. Specifically, more men than women (37 versus 30 percent) reported higher temperatures.

The study also found differences in men’s and women’s access to climate-related information and services. Overall access to climate- and weather-related information in the region is low. However, fewer women than men reported receiving predictions on the arrival date of the rainy season (65 percent of women compared to 83 percent of men), information regarding livestock production (24 percent of women compared to 38 percent of men), and information regarding pest and disease outbreaks (29 percent of women compared to 38 percent of men). Similarly, while overall access to agricultural extension services is low, only two percent of women reported having access to extension agents and only eight percent reported access to NGOs and community agricultural meetings. By comparison, 24 percent of men reported having access to NGOs, 17 percent reported access to community meetings, and 12 percent reported access to government extension services.  Women are more likely to receive information from informal channels like radio, family members, and neighbors (more than 80 percent received information from each of these sources).

How men and women respond to perceived changes in the climate also varies in the region, likely due to differences in access to and control over resources and participation in agricultural decision-making. In Kaffrine, only 7 percent of women reported being responsible for the majority of agricultural activities. The study found that men in the region appear to respond more to climate change than women do; almost half of the men interviewed said they made changes in their agricultural or livestock production practices when faced with changing weather patterns, but only one-third of the women interviewed made such changes.  

This difference could be explained by the fact that many women interviewed were less aware than their male counterparts about different production techniques, such as terracing, water harvesting, improved fertilizer use, or more resilient crop and livestock varieties.  If women had more access to information regarding these techniques, it is likely that they would adopt them more frequently; the study found that among women who did report being aware of improved climate-smart practices, a significant percentage actually adopted those practices. Ninety-six percent of these women practice agroforestry, 85 percent use mulching, 96 percent use improved manure management, and 80 percent show efficient fertilizer use.

Overall, it appears that, at least in the study area, cultural and gender norms often restrict women’s access to climate-related and agricultural information. Efforts to disseminate information regarding climate-smart agricultural techniques may thus not be as effective as they could be, as they are not reaching a large portion of the population. However, it is encouraging that when women do receive adequate and timely information, they are extremely likely to act upon that information and adopt new strategies to help their households adapt to climate change.

Although the details of a similar study conducted in Rakai, Uganda differ in their specifics, the overall finding is the same – women have access to less information than men, and this has important implications for the region’s climate change adaptation strategies.

As in the Senegal study, both male and female participants in Rakai were asked about their perceptions of short-term weather shocks within the last five years and long-term changes in weather patterns over the course of their lives. In the short-term, women were more likely to report experiencing droughts, while men were more likely to report storms; neither gender reported experiencing many floods. In the long-term, almost all of both the men and the women surveyed reported experiencing changing weather patterns throughout their lifetimes. Women were more likely to report increasing temperatures and drought; around half of both genders reported increasingly variable rainfall and decreasing total amounts of rainfall. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to report that these climate changes impacted agricultural production (87 percent of women compared to 72 percent of men) and livestock production (17 percent versus 8 percent).

Regarding climate- and weather-related information, more men than women reported having access to all types of information. More than 80 percent of the men surveyed reported having access to short-term and seasonal weather forecasts, predictions about the start of rains, and information regarding pest and disease outbreaks. Over 70 percent of women reported access to this same information; while these numbers are higher than those seen in Senegal, they still represent a large gender gap. Similarly, although women in Rakai are responsible for the majority of post-harvest agricultural activities, only around 50 percent of them reported receiving information about such activities.

More women than men reported actually using information they received regarding droughts, seasonal weather forecasts, and livestock production; however, more men reported using information regarding short-term weather forecasts. This could be due to men’s and women’s different responsibilities – women tend to engage more in livestock production, while men are typically responsible for cropping decisions (which rely more heavily on short-term weather predictions).

Access to different sources of information also appears to be heavily dependent on local gender norms. With the exception of information received from religious groups, men have significantly higher access to all sources of information. For example, radio reaches 98 percent of men and 86 percent of women; only one percent of women reported receiving information from newspapers, as opposed to 33 percent of men. Forty-four percent of men reported engaging in community meetings, as opposed to 24 percent of women. Similarly, almost two-thirds of men had access to agricultural extension services; this number is less than one-third for female farmers.

While many households in Rakai are engaging in climate change adaptation efforts, the rate of adoption of these strategies differs widely between men and women. As in Senegal, this is likely due not only to differences in access to information but also to differences in control over resources, household responsibilities, and decision-making power. Eighty-one percent of the men surveyed reported making some change to their agricultural or livestock production in order to response to changing weather patterns; 67 percent of women reported making similar changes.

The study found that women in Rakai are significantly less aware of climate-smart practices such as water harvesting, efficient fertilizer use, and cover cropping. Fifty-three percent of men reported engaging in agroforestry, compared to 19 percent of women. On the other hand, more women than men reported being aware of minimum tillage practices, improved livestock management strategies, and more resilience crop varieties.

As in Senegal, gender appears to play a role in limiting women’s climate change adaptation strategies through limitations on their access to information and resources. As both studies point out, however, if programs recognize these gender barriers and include information-sharing techniques that specifically target women, uptake of climate-smart agricultural strategies could be significantly increased throughout the region.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr: International Development Law Organization