In East Africa, building community-led climate change solutions

Two women working in a field

Nearly 80% of East Africans rely on growing and selling crops for family income, yet severe floods, droughts, and locust invasions increasingly ravage their crops. The disastrous, climate change-driven weather events that hit the region trigger a spiral of consequences, and lackluster harvests mean lost income and a struggle to keep food on the table.

“It’s really hard to conserve natural resources or even think about long-term management of an area when you’re trying to feed your family,” says Cheryl Margoluis, executive director of the CARE-WWF Alliance, a partnership centered on development-meets-conservation solutions. “Communities want to be a part of programs that help them manage resources with long-term conservation benefits, but that also help them meet their immediate household needs.”

Sowing Change, a new global program from the Alliance, will provide training, support, and financing to help women and communities find new and innovative ways to earn income while also caring for the environment. Through solutions like native plant nurseries and beekeeping, they will be able to meet their families’ practical needs for food, school fees, and health care while helping to restore the landscape for future generations. The program will capitalize on each organization’s strengths: CARE’s development savvy and WWF’s landscape restoration expertise.

“Women trust their fellow women. Now women are equally contributing to the welfare of the household. As women leaders, we have sensitized many women and built their confidence.”

Agatha Titus Mkayula
Tanzanian farmer who received special training from the Alliance and extension officers so she could train other farmers

Sowing Change is set to launch this year in East and Southern Africa. CARE and WWF country teams in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia are meeting with local communities to identify areas with the highest need and greatest potential for impact. “We want to co-design the best solutions based on what the communities identify as their most pressing climate challenges,” says Margoluis.

And while the program will look different in each country and be adapted to meet specific community needs, it will build on the foundation of the Alliance’s more than a decade of experience on the ground in Africa.

In Mozambique, for example, the Alliance helped farmers improve their crop yields by introducing hardy seed varieties, effective fertilizers, and environmentally friendly pest management. When farmers adopted these changes, their crops were twice as productive. Participants were able to feed their families for more months of the year and so were more likely to recover from future climate-related droughts or floods.

And in the Tanzanian village of Ibumila, women in an Alliance-sponsored Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) invested in a nursery with native trees. The seedlings are sold to others and planted near village water sources to restore degraded stream banks, which helps water flow more consistently even in the dry seasons. The group has also invested in beehives, which provide income through the sale of honey and candles while also serving as a safeguard to protected forests.

Power in Numbers

CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) program serves as a pillar of the CARE-WWF Alliance in Tanzania.

The concept: VSLA members, primarily women, pool their money to create a shared savings account from which they can each take loans. With these loans, members can invest in and grow businesses, like establishing tree nurseries, to support their families while also benefiting the environment. They can also save money for the future and maintain a safety net for expenses like health care.

“Bees are like soldiers to help conserve the area,” says Lidia Kivinge, chair of the VSLA group. “People and livestock are afraid to come here to this water catchment because of the bees, so they don’t disturb the environment.”

Kivinge took a loan from the VSLA to buy and install irrigation pipes to bring water from the local stream to her farm and to open an agricultural supply shop, which she co-owns with her husband. “[Through this group], we participate in mutual lending and depositing of money while also prioritizing environmental care,” she says. “Our group plays a vital role in raising awareness about environmental issues in our community. And our effective water source management has significantly contributed to the year-round flow of rivers.”

The variety of projects in Ibumila village showcases the potential of Sowing Change: “It’s really about helping women strengthen their abilities to care for themselves and their families, while also providing opportunities for them to work with each other to care for the environment,” says Margoluis.

While Sowing Change welcomes all interested comunity members, it focuses particularly on women. In regions like East Africa, women collect food, source water, and gather fuel. When resources are lacking, women have to skip meals and daughters have to leave school to help their mothers support the family. “Sowing Change gives women the literal seeds of change to rebuild climate-devastated communities and create more resilient ones for the future,” says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE.

Sowing Change will also help participants scale up their climate solutions by tapping into the Alliance’s expansive network.

“There is a global recognition of the potential impact of restoration as a climate change strategy,” says Margoluis. “This recognition provides us with many opportunities to leverage and partner with existing small- and large-scale restoration programs, rather than creating a stand-alone project. And it provides more opportunities for women participants in the program to network, learn from one another, and work together.”

Looking ahead, Margoluis says there’s an important final step for any Sowing Change project: sustainability over time, after the Alliance project is through. Work in Mozambique, where the Alliance began in 2008, proves this is no pipe dream.

“The Mozambique program ended several years ago, but the work is still being carried out by local teams,” she says. “To us, seeing communities lead their own climate solutions is really the sustainable solution. It’s the success story.”

To learn how you can support women’s leadership in local and global climate solutions by investing in Sowing Change, please contact [email protected].

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