The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 postulated that certain countries including The Gambia may be prone to frequent drought in the future. Location of The Gambia in the Sudano-sahelian zone of Africa may particularly expose the country to adverse effects of climate change.
Meanwhile, livestock species and their owners under the present traditional farming systems will be vulnerable as the impacts of climate change become prominent. This is because those farmers are highly dependent on natural resources which include water, pasture, biomass and land.
Although environmental impacts of livestock farming is still shrouded in few debates, it is however widely believed that farm animals in the developing countries are important sources of livelihood and income for many resource-poor farmers which include men and women. Furthermore, the Gambian human population which under a constant fertility scenario is projected by the United Nations to reach 6,224,000 by 2050 will depend on animal protein in the form of milk, meat and eggs.
Impacts of climate change on the vulnerable livestock farmers are many. These include climate-induced spread of infectious diseases, loss of natural habitats, reduced body conformation and high mortality rate in the case of flooding, drought or extreme temperatures. For instance, the farmers of Mbappa Mariga in the North Bank Region may not easily forget their own bitter incident of flooding which led to loss of animals and other sources of livelihood in 2010.
Adverse effects of climate change can further push some vulnerable livestock farmers into worse poverty levels. Besides, climate change has a tendency to widen the existing gender gap between male and female livestock owners because of their different adaptive capacity and access to basic resources. This assertion therefore emphasizes a strong linkage between climate change adaptation and gender in livestock production as well as economic development.
To address the challenges of climate change in relation to livestock production, potential strategies need to be viewed with gender ‘focal lenses’. By gender in this context, the term is meant to indicate the differences which exist among men and women livestock farmers in terms of their perceptions, roles, responsibilities and response to climate change related risks. The term also applies to certain differences which are observed among men and women livestock farmers with regard to handling opportunities and challenges. It is therefore important for the stakeholders to be duly aware of these differences in order to appropriately guide policy and design of livestock intervention strategies.
Evidences abound in the literatures that women keep poultry and small ruminant species and plant food crops as compared with their male counterparts who are mainly cattle owners and cash crop farmers. Relative ease of management and small body sizes of those animals when compared to cattle are among the various reasons why they are mostly preferred by women to men. In addition, the daily feed requirements of small animals such as chicken, sheep and goats are smaller than that of cattle. It is also true that the relatively small animals can be easily sold to meet urgent family needs and other primary concerns of women.
It has been established that women and men can respond differently to adverse effects of climate change even in the same location. This could be due to certain differences which societies confer on both men and women. For instance, men are mainly involved in herding while women and children are responsible for collection, processing, storage and marketing of animal products such as milk. Concerning selling of live animals, husbands or household heads are sometimes the decision makers irrespective of who owns or keeps such animals. In some local settings, women and children are responsible for cleaning animal pens although men can support them by providing local materials for pen construction.
Because of their commitment to reproductive and productive responsibilities in every home, women may not be able to own many animals as their male counterparts who are more oriented towards large-scale farming. Those differences across the gender horizon of livestock farming can influence greatly the vulnerability and hence, the adaptation strategies of each individual member of a community.
In enhancing climate change adaptation, all the available natural, physical, social, financial and human assets in the disposition of an individual or a group of people need to be carefully explored. However, access to certain basic assets such as land, forests, rangeland, and water resources may be culturally defined or biased based on gender perspective. Customary laws, institutional arrangements, and religious beliefs are also known for exposing women livestock farmers to the adverse effects of climate change as compared to their male counterparts.
Concerning the social assets, a study carried out in 2013 among women farming groups in the Greater Banjul Area indicated that targeting women groups in livestock and climate change adaptation projects can offer peer to peer learning opportunities. This is partly because women can be easily organized into functional groups than men and the hierarchical structure which typifies male dominated societies is less common among women farmers. Proliferation of women vegetable gardens in both rural and peri-urban areas of The Gambia lends credence to this statement. It is however important to indicate that those groups did not exist in isolation because women are always supported by their husbands and children.
As expressed in the Gambian Gender and Women Empowerment Policy (2010-2020), stakeholders need to “ensure effective mainstreaming of gender perspectives in emerging issues such as climate change, food, and fuel”. This policy further recommends an equitable access of both men and women to training, technologies, entrepreneurship, credit management, and markets in order to boost their agricultural enterprises. Meanwhile, some men and women farmers are yet to be adequately aware of their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. This is partly so because some of them are neither able to read nor write and also, do not have mobile phones or access to radio or television programs.
Even though the United Nations data in 2014 puts number of mobile phones per 100 inhabitants in The Gambia as 120, it is however ironical that such mobile phones are owned by youths in the urban areas and those whose livelihood and sources of income are not directly affected by climate change. The consequence is that some livestock farmers may not have adequate access to information that could have otherwise enhanced their resilience. However, there is a need to first adapt recent advances in information-communication system to local conditions in order to enhance accessibility and availability of information on climate change adaptation to the rural farmers.
It is very noteworthy for all the stakeholders to be aware that gender is an essential crosscutting issue in climate change adaptation and livestock development. It therefore needs to be well incorporated into strategies of the government and development partners. Taking this step will help to ease the adverse effects of climate change on the vulnerable livestock farmers in The Gambia.
This article is an output of a desk-based study under the African Climate Change Fellowship Programme which is financed by the International Development Research Centre.
The author (Olawale F. Olaniyan) can be contacted via: firstname.lastname@example.org; 3701318