Climate’s impact on agriculture worsens gender inequities

Researchers map hotspots to enable climate-informed policymaking for women farmers.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Jan. 10, 2023) — Climate change has a disproportionate impact on women. In communities where the women must fetch water, they are traveling longer distances. Women often eat less than men in some cultures; climate-induced natural disasters are exacerbating this disparity. Follow-on effects of climate change also make women more prone to gender-based violence and exploitation.

The impact of climate change on women is most severe in regions where gender inequality and their participation in agriculture intersect. Think of regions where a large number of women are involved in agricultural activities and climate change is hurting agriculture by causing crop failures, pest outbreaks, or increased disasters.

In a study published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, a global team of researchers developed a method to map these regions. Termed climate-agriculture-gender inequality hotspots, these are areas where climate’s impact on food production has gendered implications.

“It provides a powerful visualization tool for climate change’s impact on women in agriculture in the global South,” said Avni Mishra, a researcher at the International Rice Research Institute and one of the co-authors of the study.

The authors combined socioeconomic data and geospatial information to map these hotspots in low-and-middle-income countries. The method accounted for the severity of the climate hazard in each region, as well as the exposure and vulnerability of women to its impact. Greater exposure means higher participation of women in agriculture, whereas greater vulnerability comes from inequalities like restricted freedom.

The team found that South Asian and African countries are most at risk. They then looked deeper to find regional hotspots in four countries, namely Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, and Zambia. Exposure to climate risk was the main determinant of climate’s impact on women in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Whereas, in Mali and Zambia, the impact of climate on women was more due to their vulnerability.

Across the world, women’s participation in different agricultural activities and the impact of climate on producing a particular crop varies. Demonstrating this, the authors found regional hotspots for specific crops.

For example, three districts in north Bangladesh are hotspots for rice. Climate change is causing increasing cyclones and making soils more saline, making rice cultivation difficult. Simultaneously, more women are now involved in growing rice because men are increasingly migrating abroad for work.

Hotspot maps like these can inform better policymaking. They allow stakeholders to identify countries and regions where the confluence of climate change, risk exposure, and inequities has the most devastating impacts. When resources are scarce, as they often are in low-middle income countries, hotspot maps helps prioritize those most at risk.

Southeast Asia is one of the most climate-vulnerable regions globally. To mitigate the impact of climate hazards, countries need to invest more in mechanisms to gather on-ground data that improves climate hotspot mapping. This study, for instance, lacked insights on fisheries as there isn’t sufficient data on fishing and related activities.

Lastly, women in agriculture remain largely unrecognized, even in countries where they form the bulk of the workforce. Policymakers should consider the intersection of structural inequalities and their participation in agriculture to serve them better.

“It is important that you bundle interventions.” Mishra suggested that “climate finance initiatives need to focus on women farmers as well.”

Source: International Rice Research Institute ; Image: Shutterstock

The paper can be found at: Where women in agri-food systems are at highest climate risk: a methodology for mapping climate–agriculture–gender inequality hotspots

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


Sachin Rawat is a freelance science writer & journalist based in Bangalore, India.

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