Environmental experts have underscored the need to fully explore and utilise women’s potential in contributing to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
Women in developing countries are both highly dependent on ecological goods and services and highly vulnerable to environmental degradation and crisis which is an opportunity to take lead in conservation, experts say.
Speaking to The New Times, Aloysie Manishimwe, a conservation expert and researcher said women have potential to become conservation leaders by taking decisions and leading- tapping into gaps and opportunities in biodiversity conservation.
Women have opportunities to lead in conserving protected areas but also other areas. For instance 80 per cent of Rwanda’s population depends on agriculture. This means conservation agriculture has huge opportunities. They can do agriculture while doing conservation at the same time on both hillside and valleys, she said.
“Women are more in contact with nature where they spend a lot of time than men. Therefore they have huge opportunities in conservation, especially agriculture conservation from which they directly get income,” Manishimwe said.
Students during tree planting exercise in Gatsibo District. Sam Ngendahimana
She said there are huge opportunities in community conservation as well as conservation agriculture.
Community conservation is an approach to land conservation that includes more people which begins by listening to many different voices in the community.
Conservation agriculture is a farming system that can prevent losses of arable land while regenerating degraded lands
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture conservation promotes maintenance of a permanent soil cover, minimum soil disturbance, and diversification of plant species.
It enhances biodiversity and natural biological processes above and below the ground surface, which contribute to increased water and nutrient efficiency use hence improving sustained crop production.
Women champions in conservancies
Manishimwe made the case for incentivizing women who are beating the odds in leading in biodiversity conservation.
During the recently concluded Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Beatrice Lempaira, working for Northern Rangelands Trust – a membership organisation owned and led by the 43 community conservancies in northern and coastal Kenya, testified to the participants how women have become champions in conservation through conservancies.
“We have a model that puts communities at the heart of conservation. For true conservation to happen, we need communities at the centre. But more importantly is the voice of women about conservation. We also work with local indigenous women who come together for conservation,” she said.
She said that the organisation has trained women on beadworks-an economic empowerment programme- to generate income as a motivation to participate in conservation.
The programme has supported over 1,300 pastoralist women who gained traditional beading skills.
“We connect them to local and international markets,” said Lempaira.
BeadWORKS artisans earned KSh12 million as labour payment for the creation of beaded products in 2021 – up 28 per cent compared to 2020’s Ksh9.3 million, she said.
She explained that part of the sales goes into conservancy as conservation fees to support wildlife.
“The conservation work we do is community-based conservation where we work with communities close to protected areas.
Now in Northern Kenya, conservancies are using a model where wildlife protection, livelihood and livestock rearing coexist with the people,” she said.
Conservancies building peace communities in conflicts
Peace Coordinator Josephine Ekiru, who is the winner of United States Institute for Peace (USIP) Women Building Peace Award in 2021, said that women in conservation have also initiated peace building in issues of environment.
“Where I come from, there used to be a lot of conflicts between communities-pastoral communities fighting each other over water and pasture,” she said.
She explained that the northern rangelands were under increasing pressure to support growing livestock numbers.
In 2009, her community started a conservancy– body concerned with the preservation of natural resources which had to find ways to manage natural resources for the benefit of both cattle and wildlife.
“We are now connected managing to protect natural resources without conflicts thanks to conservancies. They understood the importance of wildlife instead of putting it under pressure for pasture. We have peace ambassadors who even spot poachers and raiders,” she said.
Women’s carbon project
She added that they also embarked on implementing The Northern Kenya Carbon Project, the world’s first large-scale grasslands soil carbon project.
The carbon market allows nations or organisations to finance carbon-cutting projects in other countries and count the avoided emissions towards their own climate targets.
It is one of few large, landscape-level carbon removal ventures currently on the market.
It is anticipated to remove and store 50 million tons of CO2 over 30 years – the equivalent of the annual emissions from over 10,000,000 cars.
The sale of this sequestered carbon from community rangelands in northern Kenya will create additional and much needed income for the communities and enhance conservation efforts, including the improvement of habitat for four endemic endangered species – the Eastern black rhino, Grevy’s zebra, Reticulated giraffe and Beisa oryx, as well as addressing impacts of climate change.