Young Women’s Grassroots Action on Climate Change | Sub-Saharan Africa


In 2013, the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), launched a breakthrough initiative to train young women from poor, marginalized farming communities across sub-Saharan Africa with support from the Mastercard Foundation and EARTH University. Through this training, these young women become Agriculture Guides – champions of sustainable agriculture. These young women have improved the productivity, sustainability and profitability of their own smallholdings as well as encouraged wide adoption of practical, affordable and locally-relevant climate-smart techniques. This includes inter-cropping and drip irrigation using waste plastic bottles and technologies that value Indigenous traditions.

As a result of this initiative, a movement of young women are now leading effective action on climate change through sustainable agriculture in rural Africa. Already, over 8,500 individuals, mostly women and young people, have been reached through demo-farms, community meetings and mentoring, and Agriculture Guides are continuing to reach young people in their communities to build their resilience to climate challenges. CAMFED aims to equip 50,000 more young women in rural Africa with climate-smart knowledge and skills over the next five years.


Key Facts

  • To date, CAMFED Alumnae (CAMA) Agriculture Guides have reached over 8,500 people with climate-smart techniques and support through a model that can be readily scaled.
  •  One-third of CAMA’s 138,000 membership across five countries are “agripreneurs”, and supported by the knowledge gained from Agricultural Guides. Together, they are spearheading action on climate change at the local, national and international levels.
  • Young, rural women are often disenfranchised in their communities, however, through their role as Agriculture Guides, women are gaining respect and recognition for their leadership, and access to vital assets such as land.
  • Recognising the impact of empowering women, all Agriculture Guides are themselves women and at least 60% of the people they reach are women and girls.

The Problem

In rural sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of climate change is already being felt and increasingly extreme weather threatens the livelihoods of farming communities. Women are disproportionately affected due to their dual roles in producing food and managing household responsibilities, such as collecting increasingly scarce resources of water and firewood.

Compounding the other challenges they face, rural women are less likely than their male peers to benefit from agricultural training, resources or advisory services, resulting in a 20 - 30% productivity gap between genders.

The Solution

Climate-smart agriculture is foundational in building resilient economies that can adapt to a rapidly changing climate. For this reason, CAMFED has been working with EARTH University and local colleges to train young African women from poor, marginalised farming communities as Agriculture Guides. These young women then help train other young people with the skills and tools to launch and grow climate-smart agribusinesses.

This empowers young women to take the lead in strengthening local food systems, nutritional security and resilience against climate shocks, as well as enabling them to improve their incomes. Examples of these sustainable and climate-smart techniques include intercropping, crop and business diversification and effective use of irrigation as well as food preservation techniques, clean cook stove construction and waste management.


Helping the Planet

Agriculture Guides train rural women in areas with poor health outcomes to build energy-efficient stoves from local resources. For example, young female leaders organised fuel-efficient stove construction workshops across six districts in Zimbabwe. These stoves use half as much firewood and reduce smoke pollution by up to two-thirds. This project is serving to help reduce emissions and enhance carbon sequestration.

Young rural farmers are also integrating poultry and small ruminant production with crop production, and using manure to enhance carbon sequestration. They have helped implement a variety of more sustainable and climate-smart techniques such as mixing legumes with cereals, growing crops with varying root lengths to optimise moisture and nutrient use, and mulching with farm waste to restore soil organic matter.

Agriculture Guides are also teaching farmers techniques that will help increase land productivity and reduce the use of synthetic fertilisers, including techniques to enrich soil by preparing it with manure and mixing crops such as maize and beans. They are also taught to make compost from farm waste, to combine contour ridges with cover crops to reduce erosion, and how to conserve soil moisture.

Helping People

Agriculture Guides conduct outreach on a weekly and monthly basis, across local communities. They have reached over 8,500 members of rural African communities of whom at least 60% are female and 60% are young people.

The supported groups include:

  • The Agriculture Guides themselves who report significant productivity gains – up to a three-fold increase in yields – and improved family consumption of food as a result of applying climate-smart farming approaches. Agriculture Guides also reported increased status in their families and communities as a result of taking on these leadership roles;
  • Classes of school children who receive practical lessons about the importance of soil and tree preservation, as well as being taught practical techniques for sustainable agriculture;
  • Parent support groups engaged in cultivating crops and preparing meals for school children who similarly benefit from a blend of traditional and innovative climate-smart farming techniques, and
  • Smallholder farmers, particularly women, who learn climate-smart techniques to apply on their farms.

Spillover Effect

By building their own economic agency, CAMFED is empowering women “agripreneurs” to help marginalised children, particularly girls, to stay healthy and access a formal education. They leverage their lived experience and resources to mentor and support girls to stay in school and succeed. In turn, these women become visible role models for girls at risk of dropping out of school, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy.

Women’s leadership on climate-smart agriculture has the potential to permanently transform entire communities by raising the productivity, sustainability and attractiveness of a career in agriculture, often viewed as the default option for the uneducated, rather than a viable career choice. As role models, climate-smart Agriculture Guides are demonstrating that agriculture can be profitable, innovative and productive and are inspiring young people to take the lead in building sustainable, resilient farming practices.

CAMA’s distinctive Agriculture Guide model, which is underpinned by members’ commitment to using their local expertise to design training content and achieve long-lasting change, has already been replicated in multiple countries. The model has been delivered successfully in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. The potential to continue training young climate-smart “agripreneurs” across rural African communities is almost unlimited. With the investment in girls' education by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and others, a new generation of educated young women is ready to take up the challenge.

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