“Local problems tend to have local solutions”

Dr. Sarah Akello
Dr. Sarah Akello

Interview with Dr Sarah Akello, lecturer at the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Makerere University in Uganda.  

Climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation projects are more successful, sustainable and equitable when specific gender justice measures are embedded in the targets and implementation. At the IKI Brown Bag Lunch in October 2022, three women shared experiences on this from their daily work. Dr Sarah Akello was one of them: she has extensive practical experience in natural resource management and governance. She is also the chairperson of the Jane-Kidi Memorial Tree Planting Group. This grassroots organisation focuses on green, alternative sources of income for livelihoods.

What is your personal motivation in leading the Jane-Kidi Memorial Tree Planting Group? 

It is the desire to ignite a grassroots understanding of the causes and effects of climate change in my community. Local problems tend to have local solutions, and I am motivated to develop homegrown solutions and foster sustainability of the interventions. Lastly, the craving to contribute to my community welfare through promoting fruit tree growing not only to contribute to nutritional needs of my community, but also to provide an alternative source of income as well as protect the environment, is a motivation.

Can you give one example of how your work is contributing to the fight against climate change? 

The tree seedling project is meant for landscape restoration, and the sale of the seedlings is for income generation through the establishment of the high quality nursery. The community has successfully planted over 200,000 trees of assorted indigenous and exotic species since 2011. They have been planted in such a way that the socio-economic and ecological values of the landscape are achieved. All this is a contribution against the effects of climate change such as high temperatures and floods, among others.

Can you give one example of a structural challenge in fighting for gender justice in the Jane-Kidi Memorial Tree Planting Group?

In Uganda, there are four land tenure systems. The Mailo land (belonging to the Queen/King), Leasehold, freehold and customary land tenure system (inherited from forefathers), which the community I work with adhere to. Practically, land belongs to the male and they therefore make decisions on where, which and how trees are planted. That is definitely challenging. In the gendered division of labour, women are in charge of tree nursery management and men do land preparation and forest establishment. Women are marginalised during the sale of forest and tree products, because at the time of harvest, men take full charge of the harvest and sell the forest products, leaving women only to handle minor forest products.

Are there gender stereotypes in the sale of tree products? 

Yes! Women are most inclined to sell things like firewood, charcoal, herbal medicine, fruits, craft materials, seeds and oils (e.g. shea butter) in small quantities, while men are more interested in products like timber, poles and sometimes charcoal, which generate more money. Our culture dictates that men are the head of the family and make most decisions.

What is the particular contribution of women and men in reducing greenhouse gases? 

According to me, women are more committed and contribute more than men do. They sensitise other community members on climate change issues through dance and drama and are part of the tree planting programmes. They provide labour in the tree nursery bed and also support during the sale of tree seedlings as an alternative source of income. When planted in their respective fields, this reduces the pressure of deforestation and protects the existing forests, thus contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases. Women’s practice of soil and water conservation technologies on a small scale and in agroforestry reduces greenhouse gases as well. Alternative forms of income like petty trade reduce pressure on the watersheds and environment. 

Through sensitisation, men are also able to communicate to their colleagues on how to reduce the effects of climate change. Men are involved in eco-friendly agriculture, mulching and agroforestry. They also plant trees – remember, land belongs to the men. Therefore, the provision of land for tree growing to their women to participate is a huge contribution. 

What can men do to fight for gender and climate justice? 

In every project that supports women, men must be part of the discussion, because they make the decisions and own the resources. A buy-in by the men will give us leverage in addressing issues of climate change, inclusion and diversity, involving every human race. Men should involve women in decision-making processes. Let us not emphasise the issues of women being pulled down because of the presence of men, but we need to involve them in helping us to discuss: How can we do this together? Can we use it for the development of the households? Climate change affects every living organism. Women should be empowered in various aspects including education and how to communicate information to their husbands in a way that does not bring tension or conflict.

Do you know whether members of the LGBTQI* community are engaging in gender and climate justice?

Since effects of climate change are cross-cutting, the Jane-Kidi Memorial Tree Planting Group is not discriminatory, and everyone is free to support activities that contribute to the reduction of the effects of climate change in Uganda and globally. One of the best strategies would be to support mobilisation of all group members and focus on activities such as tree planting and community forest conservation while providing them opportunities for livelihood enhancement. However, the LGBTQI* community gaining wider social acceptance in the local communities is not a popular discussion.

What else do you want to share with people working in international climate projects? 

The international climate projects should get interested in the grassroots movement! The responses and actions addressing issues of climate change are right at the grassroots. Give local communities enough support and then monitor their progress. For example, the Jane-Kidi Memorial Tree Planting Group uses the bottom-up approach in running the organisation. This community based organisation was initiated, built and owned by them. They have passion for it and the sustainability is ensured. Therefore, instead of paying millions of dollars for expensive hotels, workshops and conferences, I would advise that you take money to places where the action of reducing effects of climate change is taking place and being addressed. That is my take on this.

[The interview was conducted by Kim Naser, Project Manager of the International Climate Initiative at Zukunft-Umwelt-Gesellschaft gGmbh.]

Topic page: Gender in the IKI

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