March 8, 2018
By Trees for the Future Staff
For nearly three decades, Trees for the Future has worked with women farmers to improve their lives and our planet. Our women farmers have adapted agroforestry interventions that help them revitalize their degraded lands, increase their incomes, and provide healthy food for their families. Recent estimates measure the female labor share in agriculture at 56% in Tanzania and 52% in Uganda. With over half of the rural workforce directly involved in agriculture in all the countries where we operate, we know it is imperative that our programs are designed to empower women with the tools they need to succeed.
We see women as crucial to the success of our programs. In the African countries where we work, the task of feeding the household has traditionally been a woman’s duty. Therefore, an increased ability to cultivate food and fuel remarkably improves the daily lives of women, while generating opportunities for them to seek education and elevate their social positions.
Where a history of intensive, single crop agriculture has degraded the productivity of land, women are often forced to forage in the wild to meet their families’ needs for fuel, income, and food for their children. Wood and charcoal are in high demand in urban areas, incentivizing people to cut down trees to produce this charcoal. Charcoal can be a quick but destructive means of profit for those with little other economic opportunity. In West Africa, girls are generally responsible for bringing home fuelwood from forests, which can be dangerous for both the forests and the girls. Because of the increased pressure on the land due to charcoal production, trees that were once crucial parts of the ecosystem are disappearing. To access the forest products they need, women often must walk miles in the woods where they can be vulnerable to crime and unable to call for help.
Life for women is much different with agroforestry. A Forest Garden makes a far more nurturing landscape than a traditional single crop farm. By growing a variety of trees and crops in a forest garden, women generate alternate sources of income and grow the supplies they need, like fuelwood, food, and fodder for their daily household needs. With their livelihoods on their own homestead, women are able to combine the demands of their home and family with their work. With a Forest Garden nearby, women no longer need to walk miles to chop down branches and haul them to their homes on their backs or heads. Forest Gardens, cared for with the right knowledge, can reliably provide fuelwood and food for a family without depleting the timber stocks of public lands.
The Forest Garden makes women’s work easier and their income more sustainable, but the benefits can be even larger. Girls are expected to prioritize household work over schooling, so when the materials they need for their household work are plentiful and nearby, their school attendance improves. When household duties occupy less time, girls and women are generally more able to engage in activities outside of domestic chores.
In many African cultures, crops have connotations with gender—maize and peanuts, typical monoculture crops, are generally grown and sold by men; papaya, lettuce, henna, and limes, which are commonly found in a Forest Garden, tend to fall in the women’s domain. For this reason, Forest Gardens not only produce more income for the family as a whole, but the income is collected and managed by the women. The ability to earn their own income allows women more input over how money is spent. Research shows that when a woman is in charge of how money is spent, she chooses to invest back in the health and prosperity of her family.
Recognizing the unique value agroforestry has for them, we plan our programs to encourage the participation of women. We select farming groups comprised of at least 30% women, and currently boast 44% women participants throughout our projects. Oftentimes, our farming groups are not only comprised of a majority women- they are also led by women. For instance, in our Ikinu group in Kenya, a majority of our farmers are women. More over, an impressive 80% of the lead farmers are women. Women are not only participants in our programs, they are leading the way.
There are many ways in which we take the needs of women into account in our programming. In doing so, our workshops take place at times that are convenient for local women, allowing them to bring the children in their care. When we work with farming families to design Forest Gardens, we first ask about the family’s needs and pay extra consideration to women’s answers, which often include fuelwood, animal fodder, and food for the family.
Additionally, our women farmers often spread the word about how sustainable and profitable the Forest Garden System can be. This allows others in their communities to join our projects and enjoy the advantages of agroforestry. It is women who have been at the forefront of entrepreneurial ventures such as homemade natural pesticides, beekeeping, and creating value-added products such as juices or popped grains.
We are proud of our work with women and celebrate how much they enhance our programs. Agroforestry empowers women and creates a more verdant and equitable world for future generations. With the Forest Garden approach women are able to increase their income, health, and educational access for their children. We honor our women farmers for their hard work, perseverance, and adaptability – we have them to thank for our successes.