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Focusing On Women And The Environment for A Hunger-free Malawi

This March, WFP joined the global community in honouring International Women’s Month under the theme ‘Equality for women is progress for all’. In Malawi, a country affected by food insecurity and climate change, WFP is empowering women and protecting the environment through the Africa Adaption Programme.

Ivy Muthali stands in front of the stove production kiln in Kapatuka to show off one of the fuel-efficient stoves she made from clay.

Copyright: WFP/Sarah Rawson

This March, WFP joined the global community in honouring International Women’s Month under the theme ‘Equality for women is progress for all’. In Malawi, a country affected by food insecurity and climate change, WFP is empowering women and protecting the environment through the Africa Adaption Programme.

In Kasungu district, women are tasked with daily collection of firewood for fuel. But this can lead to deforestation and, even worse, to soil erosion and floods, with devastating consequences for subsistence farmers. Environmental degradation has contributed to high food and nutrition insecurity in central Malawi, further damaging an already fragile ecosystem.

Firewood collection is a high-risk and time-consuming chore. As tree coverage is lost, women are forced to travel greater distances, exposing them to increased risks of attack and rape. 

In Malawi, up to 43 percent of people have experienced some form of gender-based violence and more than 50 percent of victims are women (Government of Malawi, 2012). Malawi ranks 124 out of 148 on the gender inequality index (UNDP, 2013).

As part of the Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP), funded by the Government of Japan and the Flanders International Cooperation Agency, WFP has joined together with government and communities to protect women and resuscitate an ailing environment. In 2012, a climate change adaptation project focusing on fuel-efficient stoves, income-generation for women and tree planting began in Kapatuka village to ensure women could safely and efficiently prepare meals for their families. 

“The fuel-efficient stoves create the same heat as a traditional fire only with much less firewood and with less smoke,” says Ivy Muthali, a 33-year old mother of four, who is a member of the community’s women group responsible for stove production. This group of 10 was formed to champion AAP efforts in the village. 

“Instead of spending three hours a day collecting firewood to prepare daily meals, I can get all I need in about 30 minutes. The risk of experiencing violence is always greater the longer you stay out collecting firewood.” 

The initiative has enabled women to feel safer than ever before - no longer in constant fear of violence during daily firewood collection. 

“Now that we can get wood nearby, women are not wandering so far and cases of violence have really gone down,” she says. 

The fuel-efficient stoves also lower health risks by reducing unhealthy smoke and particle emissions, and reduces cooking times as the heat is concentrated. With time saved, women are able to dedicate themselves to other responsibilities such as tending their fields or producing more stoves for sale. The Kapatuka group produces an average of 70 stoves a month, of which the majority are sold to neighbouring villages or to COOPI, WFP’s implementing partner for this project.

“We’ve learned to operate like a small business to ensure we’re all earning some income throughout the year,” says Ivy. 

The women use the proceeds from their sales to buy fresh food and other household needs like salt and soap.  

These activities are complemented by an afforestation component of the project.  Deforestation in Malawi is occurring at one of the highest rates in Africa (2.8% tree coverage loss annually, FAO). To bring fresh growth to their area, the community organizes itself into small groups, planting seedlings provided by AAP for a few hours a week. By the end of 2013, the community had planted nearly 7,500 trees and is continuing to make impressive progress this year.