For every year of additional schooling a girl receives on average, her country’s climate disaster resilience improves, yet education remains an overlooked strategy to protect the planet.
The pan-African Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) movement puts girls at the front of climate action through its Agricultural Guide Program, which educates women from marginalized farming communities about sustainability.
Forget Shareka, a member of the CAMFED Association and founder of Chasi Foods, a company tackling food waste in Zimbabwe, contributed the guide with other young women leaders. Shareka is actively working to promote sustainable agriculture within her community and beyond.
Global Citizen spoke to Shareka about how she’s encouraging the adoption of sustainable techniques, why educating women and girls must be at the center of climate action, and more.
Global Citizen: Why is it important for girls to have access to education to help reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change?
Forget Shareka: When we are looking at the most vulnerable people when it comes to climate disasters, especially in developing countries, the most affected people are women. If we educate those girls, they will become women one day, and they can contribute to tangible solutions.
Can you tell me about the climate-smart practices CAMFED teaches women and girls?
At COP25 [the United Nations Climate Conference in 2019], CAMFED won the Climate Action Awards for the CAMFED Agriculture Guide Program. I was [one] of the people who wrote the guide to reach out to forgotten farmers. Those forgotten farmers are usually women without adequate access to land training and resources. We link them with the information and services that help them increase yields. When they increase yields, it also contributes to building community resilience and climate action. That guide, I think by last year, was used to train more than 35,000 farmers.
In Africa, most women in marginalized areas are responsible for walking long distances in search of firewood. To make that burden easy, we tried to come up with a low, efficient fuel stove that also doesn't use a lot of firewood and introduce the idea of tree replanting.
How have you seen climate change impact your community, and what role have girls and women had to play in recovery efforts?
The most painful thing is, the whole continent [Africa] emits only 3% of global emissions.
I would love to quote what I think one of the ministers of agriculture in the climate department in Kenya said [at COP26 in 2021]: “When it doesn't rain, we cry, and when it rains, we bleed.” I share the same sentiment. When it doesn't rain, we're facing very serious droughts that put a major burden on women because in most of the families ... especially in the rural areas, women are responsible for looking for food. When a climate crisis happens, it means that a woman is forced to go look for a part-time job far away, and a girl child is being given an extra responsibility to look after the siblings while the mother is away from home. That also affects the health of a family because people are not adequately eating. They are exposed to other diseases that are linked to malnutrition. The girl also has to go in search of water, and along the way, there are cases of girls being raped.
When it rains in excess, when there are floods, people are being displaced. During Cyclone Idai, a lot of families were displaced and forced to stay in improper structures that increased cases of abuse. Their security is not guaranteed in such kinds of infrastructures. In a nutshell, a climate crisis translates into a humanitarian crisis.
How does Chasi Foods integrate sustainability into its mission?
What we are trying to do is reduce post-harvest losses and food waste through agro-processing opportunities, leveraging innovation and clean energy while improving standards of living in the areas we operate in. Globally, one-third of the food produced every year goes to waste. In Zimbabwe, 40% of the food produced every year also goes into waste, and that is a reality in most African countries. That food can feed the population of Kenya for four years.
We work with farmers, especially the women and youth from rural areas that do not have access to the market, so we provide them access by buying their produce. We also offer drying services to some of the well-established farmers for excess produce that failed to sell and increase the shelf life of their farm produce.
We contribute to food security and climate action because when bad food decays, it produces carbon dioxide and methane. For example, last year alone, we managed to reduce the greenhouse gases emissions in the Zimbabwean agriculture sector by 10%, which is a lot for a company that is only three years old.
How have you seen the value of empowering women and girls to fight climate change firsthand?
Women do not only contribute to change in the company [Chasi Foods], they also contribute to change outside the company in their homes. For example, we value litter separating. We don't just dump stuff. And one day I visited one of the workers at her house. I found that she also implemented the same litter separating process. It means that we are effecting change not only within the company but within the community because people take it back to their homes and educate others.
What would you say to everyday citizens who want to take action on climate change within their own communities?
Every day is an opportunity for us to help and contribute to change in different ways. Every community has needs. There is always something that can be done, be it bigger or smaller. It's an issue of collaboration. It's an issue of saying, “OK, we need to take action.” It's an issue of compassion, and compassion is the heart of our actions. Let's just have that kind of a mindset, that even if maybe I'm not the one causing it, I can play a part in solving it. Please consider loss and damage because those people who are contributing the least [to climate change] are paying the highest price, [and] that's not fair.