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  • Can research be transformative? Challenging gender norms around trees and land restoration in West Africa

Can research be transformative? Challenging gender norms around trees and land restoration in West Africa

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Gloria Adeyiga (left), Ana Maria Paez (centre) and Emilie Smith Dumont present research findings to the community of Gwenia, northern Ghana. Photo by ICRAF

Trees are important sources of income for many women in the drylands of West Africa, yet women often have little say in decisions about how land and trees are managed or how household income is used.

This story reports on a series of community workshops organized by the West Africa Forest-Farm Interface (WAFFI) project, which set out to explore gender inequity and what might be done to change things for the better.

Community members listened with rapt attention as research findings about differences in sources of household income and decision-making powers among men and women were presented in graphs drawn on large sheets of paper. There was a lot of interesting material to digest and to discuss. The results showed large variations in access to assets and resources among men and women, and some strong imbalances in how decisions are made within households.

WAFFI is led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and Tree Aid with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). WAFFI aims to identify practices and policy actions that improve the income and food security of smallholders in Burkina Faso and Ghana through integrated forest and tree management systems that are environmentally sound and socially equitable.

Read also: Momentum builds to expand scale of land restoration for regreening of northern Ghana

At one workshop, fifteen women and eight men from the village of Gwenia in Kassena-Nankana West District in Ghana’s Upper East Region, ranging in age from late teens to early 80s, gathered in the women’s community center. Facilitating the activities were Gloria Adeyiga of the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, ICRAF gender specialist Ana Maria Paez Valencia and Emilie Smith Dumont, who has coordinated the WAFFI project in northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso for ICRAF.

This is a region where diminishing tree resources, land degradation and climate change have increased women’s vulnerability, while restrictive sociocultural norms offer limited opportunities for women to participate in, and benefit from, landscape restoration or agroforestry initiatives. ICRAF scientists think that addressing gender inequity is key to unlocking women’s potential to make livelihoods and landscapes more productive and resilient.

In Gwenia, Adeyiga and Smith Dumont presented findings from their innovative participatory research that explored wealth variations within, and across, communities. Interviews had been conducted simultaneously with the male family head and one adult female in 36 households.

Tree dependence is high in the region, so income from tree resources was of particular interest. The data showed that while women are involved in all farm and livestock activities, they depend heavily on trees for cash income that they can control; a quarter of women bring in more than 40% of household income from tree products.

Read more: Farmers’ knowledge of soil quality indicators along a land degradation gradient in Rwanda.  

The main tree products in the area are shea nuts (Vitellaria paradoxa), charcoal, firewood, baobab fruit (Adansonia digitate), shea butter processed from the nuts, and tamarind.

For women, shea nuts are extremely important. More than half of the households surveyed receive income from the nuts, nearly all of it controlled by women. In households where income comes from firewood and shea butter, most of the income is controlled by women.

Baobab and tamarind (Tamarindus indica) are also income sources exclusively for women. But, where charcoal contributes income, as it does in more than 30% of households, women receive only a very small share of it. Of immediate concern is that shea trees are now the most common source of wood for charcoal making, so a key resource for women is being diminished by the male-dominated charcoal trade.

While tree resources in the area are decreasing because of growing pressure on them for charcoal, clearing for agricultural land, and uncontrolled bush fires, men are becoming increasingly interested in shea, as global markets expand for the precious butter and nuts, used as a cocoa-butter substitute in food, and also in cosmetic products.

When it comes to farm size and access to land, there are also marked gender differences. On average, women cultivate less than half a hectare and men more than four times that much. In 40% of the households, women have no access to land to cultivate themselves. Men make the decisions about how much land is allocated to women.

Participants in Gwenia discuss where to place photos illustrating household duties based on gender norms in the community. Photo by ICRAF

There are variations in cash income between men and women and from one household to the next. On average, almost half of household income comes from crops, mostly from men’s farming, and a third from livestock. But this is not always the case: in some households all of the crop income comes from women. Importantly, as Smith Dumont and Adeyiga reported to the workshop in Gwenia, their research showed that men make most of the decisions on how household income is used.

At the end of the presentation, community members were asked if they were surprised by the gender imbalances the data revealed. One participant, Stephen Adayira, said he was surprised to see the amount of income that women contributed to the household, and that women did so much to support the household.

“Men thought they were doing that,” he said.

Read also: Implications of variation in local perception of degradation and restoration processes for implementing land degradation neutrality

Transforming gender norms

This was not the only time during the workshop that there was surprise expressed about the extent of gender inequity in the community.

In another exercise, participants were given photographs illustrating various household and farm duties, from ploughing fields, to washing clothes or sweeping a compound, to processing seeds from Parkia biglobosa trees to make the condiment dawadawa. They then allocated the photographs to either male, mainly male, mainly female or exclusively female categories that were marked on a sheet of paper, based on who generally performed the tasks.

The placement of the photos revealed that women had far more household responsibilities than men. Asked whether they thought this gender imbalance was creating problems, some female participants responded that it was indeed a problem, and that women ‘age faster’ and ‘get sick more often’ than men.

Participants agreed that there could be more balance in household duties and that a few of the all-female chores — such as washing up and cooking, for example — could readily be shared by men.

The village-level gender workshop was the first of two held under the WAFFI project, the second being in the community of Séloghin in the Nobéré Department of southern Burkina Faso. Both revealed similar gender imbalances and responses from male and female participants. But there was also agreement that things have changed since the time of their grandparents. Men have been assuming a few more previously female responsibilities, women have taken up more farming duties and now have more freedom to speak their minds in public than in the past.

The workshops also included role plays, where women dressed up as men and assumed their roles in making decisions on tree-planting, use of income and in household chores, while men acted as women. These allowed both men and women to challenge gender norms and provoke a great deal of laughter and discussion in both communities. ICRAF scientists think that building these activities into development programs might lead men and women to change their behavior.

Some of the remarks were very telling.

In Séloghin, one young man admitted that playing a woman for him was ‘tiring’ and that he felt ‘shamed’ by the need to listen to a domineering husband.

Bibata Ouedraogo said she enjoyed playing a man.

“It is very interesting being head of the household,” she said. “Even if you don’t tell the truth, you have the power.”

“This will make us change our daily lives,” commented another woman.

Can gender transformative research lead to better restoration outcomes?

Shea butter. Photo by ICRAF

The findings from the WAFFI project, including during these participatory activities, suggest that efforts aimed at land restoration and increased resilience in Sahelian countries will be more successful if they can do something to change gender norms that restrict women’s participation in decision making and undervalue their roles in the landscape and in livelihood systems.

This mirrors recent work in East Africa, showing the importance of differences in how women and men view degradation status across their landscapes and the appropriateness of different restoration options.

“I think these workshops initiated a dialogue in the communities around how gender norms and roles, which usually go unquestioned, may be limiting people from making the best use of the resources they have available,” says ICRAF’s Ana Maria Paez Valencia.

“This dialogue helps them realize these norms can change, to improve their wellbeing and resilience.”

“Tackling harmful gender stereotypes and gaps cannot be considered as an accessory to technical interventions, it is a critical requirement to achieve sustainable outcomes,” says Emilie Smith Dumont.

Gloria Adeyiga was so struck by the potential for transformative change that she now wants to focus her PhD research on the extent to which including gender transformative activities in scaling up agroforestry in the Regreening Africa program can change outcomes, in terms of what tree species are planted and retained in fields, how much income is generated and how it is used to improve the livelihoods of men, women and children in northern Ghana. This is made possible by support from FTA’s Flagship 2.

Edward Akunyagra of World Vision, who coordinates the regreening program in Ghana, said that the WAFFI research has highlighted the need to “develop approaches that integrate gender analysis and participatory methods in ways that support community dialogues around sensitive issues like gender inequity, leading to transformative outcomes and impact.”

By Joan Baxter, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World.

For more information, please contact ICRAF’s Ana Maria Paez Valencia at [email protected]

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  • Rethinking Fuelwood: People, Policy and the Anatomy of a Charcoal Supply Chain in a Decentralizing Peru

Rethinking Fuelwood: People, Policy and the Anatomy of a Charcoal Supply Chain in a Decentralizing Peru

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In Peru, as in many developing countries, charcoal is an important source of fuel. We examine the commercial charcoal commodity chain from its production in Ucayali, in the Peruvian Amazon, to its sale in the national market. Using a mixed-methods approach, we look at the actors involved in the commodity chain and their relationships, including the distribution of benefits along the chain. We outline the obstacles and opportunities for a more equitable charcoal supply chain within a multi-level governance context. The results show that charcoal provides an important livelihood for most of the actors along the supply chain, including rural poor and women. We find that the decentralisation process in Peru has implications for the formalisation of charcoal supply chains, a traditionally informal, particularly related to multi-level institutional obstacles to equitable commerce. This results in inequity in the supply chain, which persecutes the poorest participants and supports the most powerful actors.

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  • Public procurement can boost demand for legal timber in Central Africa

Public procurement can boost demand for legal timber in Central Africa

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A woman carries wood in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Central African governments and their development partners account for a significant proportion of the region’s demand for domestic timber, mostly to meet infrastructure needs in sectors such as education, public works and healthcare. 

This demand is growing, as more development projects are implemented in the region. However, experts say that not enough attention is currently given to the legality of the wood used for development projects, resulting in countries missing out on a crucial opportunity to promote a sustainable, legal supply chain of timber for national consumption.

A recently published policy brief by the Central African Forest Observatory (OFAC) discusses how, until now, the governments and international organizations in the region do not include a legality clause in their calls for tenders for public procurement.

“In the current state of affairs, the states and development actors are contributing indirectly to the informal and illegal practices that prevail in the timber sector in Central Africa,” says Richard Eba’a Atyi, lead author of the policy brief and director of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Central Africa hub. “The different actors in the public procurement supply chain are violating the countries’ commitments to processes such as the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, and the 2008 Sub-Regional Agreement on Forest Control in Central Africa.”

In the policy brief Eba’a Atyi and the contributing authors call for a change in national public procurement policies across the region to enforce public purchases of timber exclusively from legal sources.

Read more: New kid on the block in Indonesia’s timber export industry

MAKING CHANGE

Currently, public procurement of timber follows a certain sequence of events. National governments lead infrastructure projects, often with support from international donors, and award projects via public tender to national or international enterprises, which then carry out the construction work. Most of these companies source their wood from local urban markets supplied by small-scale loggers, who do not take into consideration resource renewal rates. The supply chain is thus informal – and essentially illegal – and is contributing to the deterioration and depletion of Central Africa’s forests.

International donors, in most of the cases, abide by national laws, meaning that here they do not have to ensure that wood is sourced legally for public procurement projects. While some enterprises and donors do have internal operating guidelines that recommend legally sourced timber in their projects, but most of the time these guidelines are not monitored and implemented.

A tree weeps sap after being cut down to produce charcoal in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Furthermore, certified or legally sourced wood is often difficult to obtain in Central Africa, either because the industry is not interested in low-profit national markets, or because of the incapacity to meet national demand.

However, attitudes are slowly changing, and governments and development actors are increasingly turning their eyes to the issue. “A few initiatives taken across Central Africa indicate that countries are prepared to promote legally sourced timber in public procurement,” says Guillaume Lescuyer, contributing author of the policy brief, and coordinator of CIFOR’s ESSOR project that aims to boost demand for legal wood in Cameroon.

“The Cameroonian Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF), for example, has formed a working group on the issue and is now preparing a draft text on the promotion of legally sourced timber in government contracts.” The Cameroonian government’s demand for timber is calculated to be at least 13,000 cubic meters per year – an amount that can potentially have a very high impact for the betterment of the industry.

Read more: Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

LEGAL EFFORTS

Other initiatives across the region can be found in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “In Gabon in 2016, for instance, the Ministry of National Education sought to showcase the quality of Gabonese wood by purchasing 150,000 tables and benches of assumedly legal origin from the Gabon Wood Hub,” highlights Eba’a Atyi. “In the DRC, the Faculty of Sciences at Kisangani University recently sourced certified timber for a infrastructure project with financial support from the European Union.”

These individual initiatives, though relatively small on the regional scale, help create awareness about the issue and need to be encouraged and scaled-up in other countries, the experts say.

In order to require legally sourced wood in public contracts, the authors of the policy brief suggest three options to the national governments in the region. First, governments should make a political statement announcing their intention to promote the exclusive use of legally sourced wood in government contracts. Second, they should issue a legal act – a binding decree, for example, signed by a president or prime minister, or a joint order from national agencies involved in forestry resources management, public contracts and infrastructure – on wood legality in government procurement orders.

Men process wood at a company in Kisangani, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

And third, they should include a clause on the use of legally sourced timber in public contracting codes, so as to directly target the mandates of providers and suppliers.

Finally, regional cooperation, especially through the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC), also offers an opportunity to push for changes in public procurement policies at the intergovernmental level.

“Considering the implementation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) and the growing interest in promoting intra-African timber trade, it should be a priority for COMIFAC Member States to urgently prepare and adopt public procurement policies that impose and promote timber from legal sources,” says Eba’a Atyi.

And international partners, he says, should stand ready to help prepare these policies and apply them to their development support actions in Central Africa.

By Ahtziri Gonzalez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Guillaume Lescuyer at [email protected] or Richard Eba’a Atyi at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme, CIRAD, Foret Ressources Management (FRM Ingenerie), and the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL).

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  • Public procurement can boost demand for legal timber in Central Africa

Public procurement can boost demand for legal timber in Central Africa

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A woman carries wood in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Central African governments and their development partners account for a significant proportion of the region’s demand for domestic timber, mostly to meet infrastructure needs in sectors such as education, public works and healthcare. 

This demand is growing, as more development projects are implemented in the region. However, experts say that not enough attention is currently given to the legality of the wood used for development projects, resulting in countries missing out on a crucial opportunity to promote a sustainable, legal supply chain of timber for national consumption.

A recently published policy brief by the Central African Forest Observatory (OFAC) discusses how, until now, the governments and international organizations in the region do not include a legality clause in their calls for tenders for public procurement.

“In the current state of affairs, the states and development actors are contributing indirectly to the informal and illegal practices that prevail in the timber sector in Central Africa,” says Richard Eba’a Atyi, lead author of the policy brief and director of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Central Africa hub. “The different actors in the public procurement supply chain are violating the countries’ commitments to processes such as the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, and the 2008 Sub-Regional Agreement on Forest Control in Central Africa.”

In the policy brief Eba’a Atyi and the contributing authors call for a change in national public procurement policies across the region to enforce public purchases of timber exclusively from legal sources.

Read more: New kid on the block in Indonesia’s timber export industry

MAKING CHANGE

Currently, public procurement of timber follows a certain sequence of events. National governments lead infrastructure projects, often with support from international donors, and award projects via public tender to national or international enterprises, which then carry out the construction work. Most of these companies source their wood from local urban markets supplied by small-scale loggers, who do not take into consideration resource renewal rates. The supply chain is thus informal – and essentially illegal – and is contributing to the deterioration and depletion of Central Africa’s forests.

International donors, in most of the cases, abide by national laws, meaning that here they do not have to ensure that wood is sourced legally for public procurement projects. While some enterprises and donors do have internal operating guidelines that recommend legally sourced timber in their projects, but most of the time these guidelines are not monitored and implemented.

A tree weeps sap after being cut down to produce charcoal in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Furthermore, certified or legally sourced wood is often difficult to obtain in Central Africa, either because the industry is not interested in low-profit national markets, or because of the incapacity to meet national demand.

However, attitudes are slowly changing, and governments and development actors are increasingly turning their eyes to the issue. “A few initiatives taken across Central Africa indicate that countries are prepared to promote legally sourced timber in public procurement,” says Guillaume Lescuyer, contributing author of the policy brief, and coordinator of CIFOR’s ESSOR project that aims to boost demand for legal wood in Cameroon.

“The Cameroonian Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF), for example, has formed a working group on the issue and is now preparing a draft text on the promotion of legally sourced timber in government contracts.” The Cameroonian government’s demand for timber is calculated to be at least 13,000 cubic meters per year – an amount that can potentially have a very high impact for the betterment of the industry.

Read more: Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

LEGAL EFFORTS

Other initiatives across the region can be found in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “In Gabon in 2016, for instance, the Ministry of National Education sought to showcase the quality of Gabonese wood by purchasing 150,000 tables and benches of assumedly legal origin from the Gabon Wood Hub,” highlights Eba’a Atyi. “In the DRC, the Faculty of Sciences at Kisangani University recently sourced certified timber for a infrastructure project with financial support from the European Union.”

These individual initiatives, though relatively small on the regional scale, help create awareness about the issue and need to be encouraged and scaled-up in other countries, the experts say.

In order to require legally sourced wood in public contracts, the authors of the policy brief suggest three options to the national governments in the region. First, governments should make a political statement announcing their intention to promote the exclusive use of legally sourced wood in government contracts. Second, they should issue a legal act – a binding decree, for example, signed by a president or prime minister, or a joint order from national agencies involved in forestry resources management, public contracts and infrastructure – on wood legality in government procurement orders.

Men process wood at a company in Kisangani, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

And third, they should include a clause on the use of legally sourced timber in public contracting codes, so as to directly target the mandates of providers and suppliers.

Finally, regional cooperation, especially through the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC), also offers an opportunity to push for changes in public procurement policies at the intergovernmental level.

“Considering the implementation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) and the growing interest in promoting intra-African timber trade, it should be a priority for COMIFAC Member States to urgently prepare and adopt public procurement policies that impose and promote timber from legal sources,” says Eba’a Atyi.

And international partners, he says, should stand ready to help prepare these policies and apply them to their development support actions in Central Africa.

By Ahtziri Gonzalez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Guillaume Lescuyer at [email protected] or Richard Eba’a Atyi at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme, CIRAD, Foret Ressources Management (FRM Ingenerie), and the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL).

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  • The costs and benefits of challenging the patriarchy for women charcoal producers in Zambia

The costs and benefits of challenging the patriarchy for women charcoal producers in Zambia

A smallholder in Nyimba district, Zambia, holds pieces of charcoal. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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A smallholder in Nyimba district, Zambia, holds pieces of charcoal. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Women’s involvement in the traditionally male-dominated charcoal industry is increasing across Zambia.

Following an earlier story in which 27-year-old Mabvuto Zulu shared her experiences producing charcoal in Zuwalinyenga village in eastern Zambia, recent findings from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have shown that Mabvuto is far from being alone as a woman in charcoal production and trade.

While anyone visiting a charcoal market in Lusaka would be able to witness a good number of women working as traders and retailers, discussions conducted in the charcoal-producing districts of Choma and Monze in southern Zambia reveal that it has also become increasingly common for women to engage in stages of production. This can include everything from packaging charcoal to molding kilns, and even felling and cutting trees.

The increased involvement of women is attributed to an increase in demand (particularly boosted by load shedding arrangements in major cities) as well as a perceived increase in poverty in rural areas. Many women view charcoal production and trade as a viable business opportunity with low entry barriers. Trees growing on what is seen as ‘no-man’s land’, such as national forest reserves, are generally easy to access, and capital requirements for producing charcoal tend to be low.

At the same time, some women feel pushed into charcoal production due to poverty and a lack of viable alternative livelihood options. This is aggravated by fluctuating rainfall patterns, which negatively affect crop yields. Despite the viability of charcoal, most women and men still view farming, not charcoal production, as their primary source of livelihood.

When asked about how income from charcoal is spent, most respondents mention various one-off expenses, such as school fees or agricultural inputs. Others, particularly widowed or divorced women, emphasize the income security that charcoal can provide when crops fail. Charcoal income thus plays an important complementary – rather than competing – role with other income sources.

Watch: The State of Charcoal Production in Zambia

Mabvuto Zulu shows charcoal she produced. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

ON EQUAL FOOTING?

While more women are getting involved in charcoal production and trade, their level of involvement is often differentiated by marital status.

Unmarried, widowed or divorced women are involved throughout the production cycle, while most married women say they generally play a supportive role to their husbands, sticking to activities perceived as ‘more suitable for women’.

These kinds of jobs include packaging and selling charcoal, which are perceived as less physically demanding and easier to combine with childcare and other reproductive responsibilities.

Of the limited number of married women involved in production, many reported their husband’s illness or alcohol abuse as the reason for their engagement. Indeed, our discussions show that if a married woman is involved in charcoal production, others may perceive it as a sign of the husband being unable to provide for the family. This presents an additional potential entry barrier to married women, as women or their husbands may wish to avoid such social stigma.

While some charcoal is sold in local markets, many women opt to bring their products to urban markets, where they can receive higher prices. Both women and men seem to believe that women are more honest and responsible than their male counterparts, hence women are believed to make good traders. Many charcoal producers – both men and women – also prefer to sell their charcoal to female traders.

The physical nature of many activities associated with charcoal production certainly plays a role in shaping ideas of what is and isn’t suitable for women. Many female charcoal producers complain that the work is very strenuous. To manage, some women work in teams of six or more, while others rely on hired labor. While the employment opportunities are appreciated, particularly by younger men, such arrangements of course cut women’s profit margins.

Women’s reliance on male labor also makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Some women complain that the men they hire to help tend to use up the money before the job is done. Others reveal that some charcoal transporters request sexual favors as ‘in-kind payments’ if the women are unable to pay the demanded price for transporting the charcoal to urban markets.

Read also: Wood fuel in the climate pledges of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

CHANGING NORMS?

Should women’s entry into a traditionally male-dominated field be seen as a sign of changing gender norms? While most women report feeling pushed into charcoal production due to poverty, many are also proud to show that they can do what men do. Many married women also say that their involvement in charcoal production and trade has gained them more equal control over income.

In this sense, our findings seem to mirror the situation in Zambia’s Copperbelt, where growing economic insecurity is encouraging an increasing number of women to move into the mining sector. Findings from a recent study show that while many men historically opposed their wives going out to work, they are now applauding strong women who fend for their families and are doing what was previously seen as beyond their capabilities.

However, while most men report a general acceptance of women’s involvement in charcoal production due to the dire economic circumstances, they are not always happy about it. Some men complain that women who earn income from charcoal have become disrespectful to their husbands, while others bemoan that women now spend less time taking care of their families. Some also suspect that women are engaging in extramarital affairs when they are away from home in Lusaka selling charcoal. Women’s involvement in charcoal production and trade is thus seen as ‘home-wrecking’, and some women are said to have already lost their husbands over it.

A man extracts pieces of charcoal from wood that was buried in dirt and burned for two weeks. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

While charcoal production and trade offers women higher incomes, greater autonomy and a sense of pride, many women are also paying a high social price for upsetting a patriarchal system – this despite the fact that both women and men view women’s increased involvement primarily as an inevitable result of poverty!

To add to the irony, many women note that rampant charcoal production is resulting in a loss of fruit trees and trees good for caterpillar harvesting, both of which are important alternative income sources, particularly for female-headed households, according to another study.

FINDING A WAY FORWARD

So, what do the findings tell us? First, they caution against simplistic interpretations of women’s involvement in charcoal production as a sign of changed gender norms and women’s empowerment. By engaging in traditionally male-dominated activities and earning an independent income, women like Mabvuto are certainly challenging gendered divisions of labor. Hopefully, women’s entry into charcoal production can also contribute to the process of transforming unequal gender norms and power relations in rural Zambia.

However, this process is currently facing a strong patriarchal backlash in the form of exploitation and stigmatization of charcoal-producing women.

Second, and on a related point, policymakers who care about gendered impacts should be aware that policies and regulations that directly or indirectly increase production costs may disproportionately affect female producers, as they rely to a greater degree on hired labor and hence have lower profit margins. Such impacts may be particularly detrimental given that many female producers are widows or divorcees, and therefore the sole breadwinners of their households.

Third, our findings demonstrate a need for more intersectional approaches to unpacking the social dynamics of the charcoal value chain. The opportunities and challenges that women are facing are certainly structured by unequal gender norms and power relations. As we have seen, these are often intertwined with other social factors, such as age and marital status, and vary depending on one’s location along the value chain.

By Markus Ihalainen, Muzione Christina Mwale, Kaala Moombe and Davison Gumbo, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.

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  • Wood fuel in the climate pledges of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

Wood fuel in the climate pledges of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

A man transports firewood via motorbike in East Africa. Photo by Sande Murunga/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A man transports firewood via motorbike in East Africa. Photo by Sande Murunga/CIFOR

Nearly every rural family in the 49 countries of sub-Saharan Africa relies on wood to cook, boil water, provide heat and often to build their homes. Even in many urban areas, wood is the only affordable energy source.

Since wood fuel is here to stay, at least for now, scientists from the Center of International Forestry Research (CIFOR) wanted to find out how countries in the region prioritized this energy source as part of the climate actions they intend to take under the Paris Agreement.

Known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), these proposed action plans were drawn up before the accord was signed in 2015 and will help determine if the world can achieve the Paris goals. Since Paris, the ‘intended’ has been dropped and countries have submitted their final plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The CIFOR team, including scientists part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), examined how wood fuel was introduced, listed or framed in the NDCs; the existence or listing of renewable energy and energy efficiency plans; and the existence of supporting national policies and strategic documents.

“We looked at 22 randomly selected countries and their planned climate actions. Although wood fuel is mentioned in most plans, they don’t say how they intend to reach their targets or what the roadmaps, timelines and legal issues are,” says Christopher Martius, CIFOR scientist and team leader. “These plans are ambitious but they are mainly a declaration of intentions.”

The researchers found that even when plans were converted from INDCs to NDCs, just over half of the countries left out a budget or had any specific energy policies in their national planning strategies.

“It appears a lot of these countries rushed to get their [INDC] plans in place and they didn’t take the opportunity to revise them before they were automatically converted to NDCs. So they were basically a copy and paste exercise,” says Ivy Amugune, CIFOR research assistant.

One exception is Somalia, which revised and resubmitted its plan. It was also the only country to provide a detailed section on the environmental impact of charcoal. Somalia’s NDCs list renewable energy as one possible solution, but funding remains an issue.

Read more: Measuring the effectiveness of subnational REDD+ initiatives

Women gather firewood in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Photo by Sande Murunga/CIFOR

THE COST OF GOING GREEN

Renewable energy sources — mainly wind, solar and hydropower — were mentioned as alternatives by 17 countries in their action plans but implementing this strategy may not be so easy.

“Biofuels and solar energy projects have been introduced in some rural areas, but they come with a price, especially in remote areas,” says Amugune. “The problem is that setting up these systems and maintaining them costs money. Wood fuel is cheap — in fact, for most people, it is actually free.”

But rapid deforestation in many countries is making it more and more difficult for communities to harvest wood fuel.

“In Kenya, for example, you find people in rural areas have to walk for miles now to get wood and water. Changes in rainfall are occurring due to climate change. The land dries out and then suddenly there is flooding. It destroys everything and people have to start again from zero,” says Amugune.

So how can communities continue to access wood fuel without harming the environment and contributing to climate change?

The researchers looked into the question but found that few countries have evaluated this aspect, even though wood fuel has the potential to be a clean and sustainable resource. Martius says the key is good forest management.

“If you have a rotation-based strategy with communities reforesting areas and then harvesting specific areas at alternate times wood fuel can be sustainable,” he says.

This rotation system can help restore the rapidly disappearing landscapes, researchers say. “But we need more research into tree species as well as a lot of planning and control to make that happen,” says Martius.

Read more: An introduction to CIFOR’s global comparative study on REDD+ (GCS-REDD+)

PROTECT AND RESTORE

Reforestation and the restoration of ecosystems are key elements to meeting the Paris goals. Forests that are legally protected can provide a positive “carbon sink,” which absorbs more carbon than it emits into the atmosphere.

Scientists say these areas need to be protected from firewood extraction and illegal logging. But only five of the countries examined seemed to recognize the importance of this in their NDCs.

Amugune says communities need to have a good reason to restore degraded landscapes. She points to Uganda where rural communities tend to plant fast-growing species like cyprus and eucalyptus, which can be harvested and sold in a few years.

“These communities need concrete incentives to grow indigenous trees to help restore degraded ecosystems and that requires government policies and good reforestation programs,” she says.

A man stacks wood in Africa. Photo by Daniel Tiveau/CIFOR

BOTTOM UP, TOP DOWN

Amugune says a real solution involves empowering communities. If they are given the responsibility for their own future then there is a real chance to achieve sustainability.

“I’ve seen NGOs or governments come with a great offer for a community and it’s a good project, but once it ends, the work on the ground dies. We have to find ways that these projects can have a life of their own even after a project ends. That’s the only way they can transform,” she says.

She adds that the research points to more regional cooperation, as many of the countries have the same problem and together they can find joint solutions.

Martius notes that the Paris accord has brought people together from developing and developed countries and from diverse backgrounds, and that means a real debate over solutions to climate change has begun.

“But we need to continue to engage with people, not just hand over reports or studies,” he says. “Above all, we need the right policies and enforcement of those policies. It’s not easy, but if you take a few years to develop and implement the right policy, then you don’t need to worry about the next 100 years.”

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


This research is part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • The State of Charcoal Production in Zambia

The State of Charcoal Production in Zambia

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

With 70 percent of households in Zambia relying on charcoal as an inexpensive fuel for cooking and heating, demand is high for the product, which is typically made in inefficient earthen kilns.

Originally published by CIFOR.


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