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Land ownership key in reforestation

A NEW study, gathering 30 years of scholarship on the relationship between gender and forestry, was presented by CIFOR last year. PICTURE: CIFOR

MARGARET CHISANGA, Lusaka
IN SIOMA, Western Province, Lungowe Nyambe has been growing maize on a small piece of land for the past five years. In theory, the land is hers as she is responsible for managing it every year and uses the harvest to earn some income and have food to feed her household.
However, when agricultural extension officers visit and offer to introduce new models of farming through capacity building trainings, she does not attend the training. Her husband, who is the legal and ‘rightful’ owner of the land attends the training and will determine whether to implement any changes as advised in the training.
Such is the situation for many women in Africa, who are directly responsible for managing land but have no direct access to information vital for ensuring land degradation is avoided through farming methods such as conservation farming. Such situations make land restoration efforts difficult as at times information does not trickle down to the implementers.
Government officials, non-governmental organisations and research organisations often encounter this gender aspect challenge were the women, who work on the land, are not available in the process of capacity building.
This was shared during the recent Global Landscapes Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya under the theme, ‘“Landscape restoration in Africa: Perspectives and Opportunities”.
The forum provided an opportunity to African and international experts to evaluate the landscape approach in Africa with the objective to facilitate public and private sector interventions, so that ‘promises turn into action’.
Key partners in the forum, Centre for International Forestry Research, (CIFOR) shared the necessity of research into gender roles in the restoration of global landscapes.
“Women play an extremely important role in managing land, they are often the ones that go to the field and cultivate, so they play a special role in ensuring that land is afforested, they are the ones that are generally feeding families so they have an extremely important role in terms of making sure that the land is well managed in terms of restoration,” CIFOR director general, Robert Nasi said.
CIFOR is a research organisation whose work involves carrying out research and presenting empirical data to policymakers and customary authority for possible implementation of suggestions.
The organisation also carries out gender integration and gender responsive research.
Dr Nasi said research has shown that fundamentally, in areas where women have access to land or have a say in terms of how land is managed, the land is usually well managed.
“But the question we may have in many African rural setups is, do the women have access to the land? We find that in many instances, women may not necessarily have access to the land. So, unless they have access to land and they have the right to manage it, they have the rights to get the benefits from it then their role in restoration will be easier for them,” he said.
He said as a research organisation, CIFOR has a duty to convince the authorities by providing evidence-based data.
“In a sense, it is about how much you can convince the patriarchal society and to what extent you manage to convince the customary authority to give rights to women, or the government to recognise land ownership or develop inheritance law that allows women to inherit land. We provide evidence and suggestions but ultimately, the decision lays with the authority,” he said.
He said though CIFOR is a small organisation with only about 180 staff working in 40 countries, providing evidence-based information to lawmakers in various sectors of land management and reforestation has been made possible by dedication to the cause of land restoration.
The organisation also helps with capacity building by creating opportunities for selected individuals to pursue their education and further their studies at masters and doctoral level.
“We do organise trainings in helping people with skills and have a whole team working and recognising the importance of gender and framing it into policymaking” he said.
Nairobi-based CIFOR gender specialist Markus Ihalainen said there are multiple ways through which women can contribute to the overall agenda of land restoration.
“There are a number of restoration initiatives taking place around the country and we have realised that women are key in ensuring that these initiatives are implemented,” he said.
He said in many communities, women constitute about 50 percent of the population, which made it imperative that they are brought on board if any significant action is to be undertaken in the community.
“Research indicates that through ownership, many women will have the best options to ensure the land is taken care of and if they know that they can enjoy full benefits from the land, they will be able to take full responsibility to ensure that the land is well managed,” he said.
He said different approaches are used to ensure that women’s voices are heard and there suggestions brought on board. He said women are also very keen to understand how land rights and cultural gender aspects affect the process of land care and general land degradation.
Perhaps the need to address the role of women and the small-scale farmer can best be summed up in the words of Rwanda’s Minister of Lands and Forestry, Francine Tumushime, who said: “We have to know that landscape restoration is an opportunity to transform people’s lives, so we need to know that small holder farmers should be at the forefront of the whole process.”

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