Women farmers in Lower Congo have been the first to notice the effects of desertification, and the first to react.
MATADI — Women in the rural areas of Lower Congo, southwest of Kinshasa, are in the direct path of climate change's devastating effects. Made aware of the vulnerability of local crops to desertification, a group of women are actively working to reforest the area, and encouraging others to do the same.
“We are suffering. No one is taking care of us. How are we going to send our children to school, to feed them, dress them?” asks Alphonsine Lukebana, a farmer from Kimpese. "Now we have to travel long distances to grow anything, because the earth doesn’t give us good harvests anymore."
Another rural woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has come to the regional capital of Matadi to sell her products, says she must deal with the destruction of the forests, and the costs of traveling to sell what crops she is finally able to reap. "It’s an enormous effort just to survive,” she says. “How much profit can we make with the increasing price of transportation?”
Reduction in harvests, water sources drying up, less and less arable land, disappearance of animal and plant species: These are effects of desertification, one of the most visible consequences of climate change. “These changes plunge women, especially those who live in rural areas, into unprecedented poverty,” explained Annie Mbadu, the secretary of the Network for Women and Development (Refed).
Pascal Tsasa, head of the office in charge of managing the forests and environment in Lower Congo, explains why the effort is spearheaded by women. “It is women who are the ones who depend the most on agriculture to support their households.”
Environmentalist Christian Pululu says that brush fires and deforestation are the main reasons behind the climate catastrophe in Lower Congo. Local associations have taken the lead in reforestation efforts, in order to help the women in the region.
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Women step up in Democratic Republic of Congo — Photo: Refed
In the village of Kiwembo, the community association for rural development has already planted more than 10 hectares of trees. “We put beehives in the areas we plant, to harvest honey for the women who are suffering the brunt of global warming,” said Jean-Marie Bopoma, a technical consultant in development.
In the village of Nsioni, there are many women who plant trees. “Women are the first ones affected, they have understood what is happening, and that’s why they are motivated to act,” explained Donatien Ngoma, from the Peasant’s Solidarity Association in Mayombe.
Other communities are following the example, and reforestation is becoming a reality. “We don’t have a choice if we want to get out of poverty,” says Marie Nsiewete.
A meeting held by the Network for Women and Development in Matadi last summer gave rise to several recommendations to combat poverty and poor agricultural yields. They included a freeze on construction along the Banana-Muanda road, in order to protect mangrove forests, a revival of the local seed bank and research into drought-tolerant varieties.
Pascal Tsasa explains that in the face of climate change, the response must come in many forms. "You have to practice agro-forestry in concert with farming.”