Mark Hillsdon reports on how Zimbabwean farming pioneer Esnath Divasoni is championing the Campaign for Female Education
As extreme weather events such as droughts and floods threaten the livelihoods of farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa, educating women – who grow much of the continent’s food – in climate-smart agriculture is now seen as key to building greater resilience.
Esnath Divasoni is a farming pioneer in her native Zimbabwe, and a champion of the CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education) association, which supports scalable climate solutions led by young women. Launched in 1998 to help young women in sub-Saharan Africa receive a full education, it was CAMFED’s support that enabled her to finish her education and win a place on an agricultural sciences degree at EARTH University in Costa Rica.
CAMFED works on the premise that climate change affects a community’s ability to grow. This in turn hits girls hardest, as impoverished families are forced to take their daughters out of school and push them into marriage to help support the family.
Yet research shows that one of the most effective ways to mitigate climate change is through girls’ education. A 2017 study by the Brookings Institution found that for every additional year of schooling a girl receives on average, her country’s resilience to climate disasters improves, while Project Drawdown listed female education as number six in its top 100 activities that could halt climate change.
Investing in girls’ education is one of the smartest interventions, bar none
“Having access to education gives girls and women more control over their lives,” Esnath told BBC radio’s 39 Ways to Save the Planet podcast. “They tend to choose to have fewer children, reducing the pressure on the little resources available, and therefore reducing the effects of climate change.”
CAMFED was established with one eye on the strong alumni network that thrives in American universities, and the first cohort of 400 young women supported through their education were then encouraged to mentor the girls that followed in their footsteps. This is the CAMFED multiplier effect, which estimates that on average, a girl who has received a CAMFED bursary goes on to support three more girls.
And so the association has grown, with support from philanthropic bodies such as the Skoll Foundation, along with corporates such as the Prudential, Google and Pearson, meaning it now supports more than four million children in sub-Saharan Africa.
As Sally Osberg, vice chair of the Skoll Foundation has said: “Investing in girls’ education is one of the smartest interventions, bar none, because of its immediate and future impacts: on women’s status, population, health, nutrition, economic resilience, and climate change.”
At the centre of CAMFED’s success is its network of agricultural guides, women like Esnath who have been trained to help improve the productivity, sustainability and profitability of smallholdings and then return to their local schools to teach, mentor and change the status quo from the inside out.
This technical training allows them to educate other young women in sustainable, climate-smart agriculture practices, including affordable methods of irrigation, crop-rotation, inter-cropping, agroforestry, organic composting and mulching.
It’s going to create a network of insect farmers … that is coming from the power of educating just one rural girl
To help support her community as it struggles against the adverse effects of climate change, Esnath has also set up an insect farm, which is delivering sustainable protein in the face of growing food insecurity. The crickets she farms need very little space, produce few greenhouse gases, and represent a sustainable source of protein; even their droppings can be used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.
“Insects are the future of protein,” she says. “When we are looking at being climate-smart, when we are looking at initiatives that can reduce damage for our environment, insects are playing a huge part.”
She has now trained her first 10 local women in insect farming, too. “It’s going to create a network of insect farmers across the country… that is coming from the power of educating just one rural girl,” she adds.
This article is part of The Ethical Corporation summer 2021 in-depth briefing on natural capital. Click on the cover to download your digital copy for free.
Main picture: Esnath Divasoni. (Credit: CAMFED)