Africa: Cultivating Resilience – Women’s Leadership in Biodiversity Conservation

Aicha would not describe her profession as farming, and yet she is coaxing life out of a barren desert.

The first thing she does each morning is feed the sheep and chickens dried alfalfa that she has grown, giving a bit of extra food to one ram that she is preparing for Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice. She then makes her family a breakfast of eggs, bread and dates, sourced from their plot of land and from women in her village. Returning to the backyard, Aicha then assesses what work needs to be done to continue cultivating these resources for her family.

Living in the Drâa-Tafilalet region of Morocco on the cusp of the Sahara, water is a valuable resource. A common expression is aman iman or “water is life” in Tashelhit, the Indigenous language of the region. Until recently, water spilled forth from the local terwa, a community-managed network of wells and trenches delivering water from the nearby Atlas Mountains. Due to an ongoing drought, Aicha carefully dispenses water from a plastic canister, which her son gathers from faraway sources, to hand irrigate green shoots of scallions, beets and turnips peeking through the hardened soil. On other days, she harvests alfalfa with a sickle or collects ripe dates from towering palms. Her work is often interrupted by customers for her business as a seamstress. Flowy cotton dresses are in demand, and perfect for the many tasks that women, like Aicha herself, undertake daily.

Similar to many women around the world, Aicha’s knowledge of how to sustainably care for and benefit from nature could fill books. Biodiversity underpins her life, and sustains the health and well-being of her family and village. However, on a global scale, women often have less access and control over land, natural resources and other productive assets, and receive fewer related benefits, including inclusion in policy making processes. Therefore, women’s input and knowledge are often not considered during the development of biodiversity policies. Yet, efforts to safeguard nature and its benefits to society are falling short, and need to include the knowledge and leadership of women, as their roles and responsibilities often put them in direct contact with nature.

Lea Phillips, Senior Biodiversity Policy Coordinator, UNDP

Christina Supples, Senior Project Manager and Advisor on Biodiversity Policy, Science and Projects, UNDP

Marion Marigo, Capacity Building and Biodiversity Senior Officer, UNDP

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