It was mid-July and the rains in the north central region of Nigeria had intensified. Asibi Gade, a woman farmer popularly known as Mama Asibi, watched helplessly as the floods washed away her crops.
Earlier in the year, Mama Asibi, who is also a widow, had hoped that the land would yield enough produce for her to sell, using the proceeds to pay her children’s school fees which amounted to about 150,000 naira (190 US dollars). But during our conversation Mama Asibi told me she would not even get one bag of produce from her one and a half hectares of cultivated farmland.
The floods had destroyed it all.
»I lost everything,« she said. »There was nothing I could pick from the farm [after the floods].«
Sixty-year-old Laraba Danlami is another woman farmer who had planted yams and other crops hoping to make some profit, but the floods swept it all away. She now lives with the burden of debt, having borrowed 500,000 naira (620 US dollars) from a local loan company and now has to pay through the nose to settle up with her creditors.
»The flood came and destroyed the corn, cassava and yam I planted on my land. I was so angry. I had paid so much to cultivate that land and even borrowed about 500,000 naira to do it but now everything is gone.«
This year Nigeria experienced its worst flooding in decades with over 2.5 million people affected and over 300,000 hectares of farmland destroyed, including that belonging to Mama Asibi and Laraba.
But they are not alone, the story is the same all across Africa. Women on the African continent are particularly adversely affected by the impacts of climate change. Droughts in Kenya and South Sudan, floods in Nigeria and South Africa, as well as the wildfires in Tanzania all threaten women farmers and thus food security.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that women produce more than 50 per cent of the food grown worldwide, and in sub-Saharan Africa, they account for 60 to 80 per cent of the labour in food production and sales.
But with the current threat to food production caused by climate change, the number of people facing hunger and starvation has increased dramatically.
As COP27 opened on 6 November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, African women gathered at a press conference on 7 November to announce their demands and call for the conference to prioritise the needs of women like Mama Asibi and Laraba
Anne Songole, Climate Justice Coordinator for the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), said African women should not be made to suffer so much for a crisis they have not caused.
Songole believes there is a need for accountability on climate finance and that it should be linked to social protection so women can benefit from the funds.
»We want to see money in the pockets of women and we want to see the data that shows how this money flowed and where it went because that data is also really lacking.«
Mwanahamisi Singano, Senior Global Policy Lead for the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, said it is sad that »women in the community who have struggled so much to build the little that they have and when that is taken away, nobody's looking to compensate them.«
She said women need a seat at the table in order to decide how to tackle the impacts of climate change that affect them.
»We have seen the programmes, for example, we have seen country X getting this many million to implement climate finance projects. If you go into the community and ask whether they received that money, you’ll find that women are not receiving these funds.«
»So we are asking the climate justice programmes to prioritise gender equality. We want women to be at the centre of the response to, prevention and tackling of climate crisis.«
So, despite the talks about unlocking more finance for climate solutions, women farmers complain that even when they hear that monies have been released, the funds never reach them.
Sixty-five-year-old Lashe Dangara said she needs the world leaders at COP27 to defend the farmers because without food, nobody will survive.
»If they have money for us, they should not give it to our community leaders. They can go house by house to give the money to us,« she pleaded.
Priscilla Achakpa, Global Lead of the Women Environmental Programme (WEP), said this is part of the reason she has come to COP27 to represent African women. She added that it is time for women to mobilise and ensure funds meant for women reach the grassroots.
»If funds are allocated, we need to be transparent about this,« she said.
»Why are funds allocated for grassroots activities, for the activities of women’s organisations, and then don’t get there? We need to shout this out for people to hear. Because only then will the donors themselves know that these funds need to go to the grassroots women’s organisations that are conducting incredible and innovative projects to address the impact of climate change.«
With COP27 underway and world leaders committing to deliver on implementation, the decisions reached will determine whether women like Mama Asibi and Laraba will be able to recover from this disaster.
Vivian Chime, Nigeria
Vivian is a Nigerian journalist with experience covering climate change, global health, and development. A graduate of the department of mass communication, University of Nigeria, Vivian currently works as a climate change reporter and is passionate about journalism because of the power it wields in creating a better and functional society. She is a recipient of grants by the Maternal Figures and African Resilience Network. Her stories have also won international recognition, including the International Center for Journalists Global Health Crisis Reporting award