Congolese women’s association champions drought-resilient farming

A women’s association in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is inspiring farmers to use drought-resilient farming techniques. The techniques which include agroforestry and soil health, are being popularised by the Union de Femmes pour le Progrès Social (UFPS) on the outskirts of Virunga national park. This way, both livelihoods and biodiversity are protected, a successful example of locally-led adaptation.

Header photo: A farmer practices climate change resilient techniques in her field (Kinyandonyi, Democratic Republic of Congo). Photo by: CEPED

Under the inspiring leadership of UFPS president, Saanane Odette, they are making a big impact among women farmers in the area.

‘With the support of CEPED, I educate my members about mulching techniques in the field, row sowing, the use of organic fertiliser and agroforestry’, says Saanane. ‘This enables my organisation, as well as members of the local communities, to adopt the same farming technique as us. Techniques against drought are essential as we experience more and more prolonged dry spells.’

As a result of underlying inequalities, women are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Gender roles, particularly in the domestic sphere, result in differentiated needs, priorities and knowledge in relation to natural resource use and management. Seeking to implement gender-responsive activities is a key interest of the partners of the Forests for a Just Future programme of the Green Livelihoods Alliance (GLA).

About the Green Livelihoods Alliance

The Green Livelihoods Alliance (GLA) is an alliance of Gaia Amazonas, IUCN NL, Milieudefensie, NTFP-EP, SDI and Tropenbos International, with Fern and WECF as technical partners.

Together with social organisations, Indigenous peoples and local communities the Green Livelihoods Alliance works on the Forests for a Just Future programme. We do this in 11 countries in South America, Africa and Asia in landscapes where forests and the communities who have traditionally lived there are threatened by the expansion of agriculture (e.g. palm oil, soy), infrastructure, mining and oil and gas extraction, where there are opportunities to influence policy and practices.

With a clear conscience

Odette explains how using drought-resilient farming techniques have reduced the tendency to seek other fields to cultivate inside the park. ‘Long before, when we were afraid of drought, we went towards the park. It has fertile ground, but cultivating the park exposed us to arrest by the eco-guards as the park is protected. Also not using the lands of the park allows us to live with a clear conscience.’

In the past two years, efforts to acknowledge the need for agricultural practices which are resilient to climate change have been successful. The agricultural production of 67 UFPS members and 85 non-members (including 54 women) has gone up from 20% to 60%. In DRC and other GLA countries, thanks to the presence of female role models, women increasingly implement sustainable practices which have less impact on the forests. Creating spaces such as associations or women-only meetings, where women feel comfortable to share knowledge, advocate for their rights and strengthen their capacities, has proven valuable. 

Odette and members of the women’s association

Peaceful coexistence

‘Our members have committed to no longer working in or seeking fertile fields inside the park following the application of this very simple approach adapted to local realities”, Odette said. “It allows them to reduce the agricultural pressure on biodiversity, and to participate in protecting the forest of Virunga. This approach facilitates peaceful coexistence between the park and the local communities, and protects peasant women from the retaliation of eco-guards, as well as the harassment and sexual abuses by armed groups.’

For Odette, the area covered by her organisation remains insignificant compared to the entire cultivable area of the park. For this reason, she wants to spread these drought-resilient farming techniques to other villages and groups in the territory.