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19 Aug Agents of Resilience: Entrepreneurs Creating Sustainable Climate Solutions, Part I
Empowering Women is Key to Environmental Sustainability
The United Nations (UN) recently released a grave report detailing the current state of the earth’s climate and predictions for an unbelievably bleak future if governments, policy makers, impact investors, and other leaders and change makers across the globe do not act immediately and purposefully. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the report is a “code red for humanity.”
While this report is alarming, I feel that there is still hope, and I see it in the entrepreneurs who are creating solutions to help their communities meet the challenges of climate change. They have the power to not just mitigate but also reverse this path that our world is hurtling down at full throttle. In this first piece of a three-part series, I want to focus on examples of solutions which address the challenges of those who are most vulnerable to climate change—women and girls.
The UN has made clear that women and girls are “the most vulnerable” to climate change and “will also experience the greatest impacts.” Women make up 70 percent of people worldwide who are living in poverty, and unlike men, women are more dependent on natural resources and agriculture, especially in emerging markets, as their families’ livelihoods—food supply and water—depend largely on them. Families’ water supplies are significantly affected by the increase in drought and heat caused by climate change, which alters the physical landscape and can lengthen the time and distance women and girls must go to find water for their families. Instead of going to school or working, women and girls are collecting food and water, increasing their vulnerability to and risk for gender-based violence. Women and girls are also the most dependent on agriculture and are significantly underrepresented in this sector. Almost half the total number of smallholder farmers worldwide are women. Increased drought and heat worsen the quality of the soil, and these women must continue to work land that becomes more fallow every year.
One of SEAF’s investee companies, SOWIT, is helping close to 400 women farmers in North and West Africa meet this challenge, increasing their incomes, providing greater access to basic needs, and cultivating higher levels of food security for their families. SOWIT’s sustainable model of agriculture uses satellite imagery, drones, on-the-ground inspection, and historic agricultural and climate data to feed their “data warehouse” that then develops customized recommendations for each farmer. These recommendations include which crops are the most suited to grow on farmers’ lands, precise and practical recommendations on irrigation areas, the specific water and fertilizer needs of their crops, and predictions for the best harvest time, all of which enables farmers to optimize their yields. SOWIT also provides frequent and timely reports on farmers’ crops, weather data, crop market prices, anticipated trends, and breaking news. All of this data is aggregated and accessible on an all-purpose, comprehensive, and free mobile app.
Even though the tool is available widely to all farmers, SOWIT specifically targets women small holder farmers since they face greater information gaps. Women farmers currently make up 33% of SOWIT’s users, which SOWIT intends to grow to 40% by the end of 2024. SOWIT’s business model also aims to empower women’s economic development internally as well. Currently 40% of their employees are women, a number they plan to increase to 60% within the coming year.
Women’s empowerment makes good business for SOWIT, but it is also a key aspect of addressing climate change. All solutions, whether private or public, must incorporate gender equality to be effective and sustainable. Studies have found that gender inequality worsens environmental problems and “is associated with greater biodiversity loss, resource consumption, waste generation, toxic emissions, and water pollution as well as lower survival rates of children.” The UN argues that gender equality and women’s empowerment “lead[s] to productivity gains and environmental sustainability across scales and sectors. Involving women and men and drawing on their distinct experiences in communities and households will increase the effectiveness and sustainability of climate responses.”
If we don’t incorporate a gender lens in our climate response, we are not only missing a significant market opportunity, but we are also increasing the devastating effects of climate change on all of us, at a time when we simply can’t afford such a high cost.
SEAF Co-Chief Executive Officer
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