Prior to COP28, female farmers in Zimbabwe seek justice on climate change.

A farmer protested, “Why can’t the government protect us female farmers the way it is protecting miners at our expense?”

John Cassim

Harare, Zimbabwe – After years of losses to males and natural catastrophes, female farmers from rural Zimbabwe have bemoaned the state of the environmental regulations and claimed they are stifling calls for climate justice.

Farmers who participated in the Women and Land in Zimbabwe-organized environmental and climate change dialogue this week in the country’s capital Harare shared moving accounts of how the changing climate has made their lives worse.  

In order to establish a human-centered strategy that protects the rights of the most vulnerable people and shares the burdens, climate justice links human rights and development.

Due to the application of outdated patriarchal rules, rural farmers have limited opportunity to recuperate, which leaves climate change as a double-edged sword.  

One such farmer, Jostinah Ndondo (69), from Insiza in Matabeleland South, claimed that the consequences of climate change in 2019 had rendered her impoverished.

Jostinah, a ward councilor, sobbed twice when recounting her experience. 

She sobbed, “I was rich with 171 cattle in 2019 but a deadly January disease brought about by climate change wiped out my kraal, I am only left with 31 cattle.” 

Among the difficulties faced by some farmers include settlements on wetlands, mining in pastures, inadequate waste management, sexual harassment, and losing land when husbands pass away.

– effects of climate and poor environmental management

The sole dam in her region, according to 33-year-old Brenda Murevachimwe of Gokwe South, under Chief Njelele, has silted and is drying up. 

Four villages share a single borehole for the purpose of providing portable water to their cattle.

“When it comes time for livestock to get water, we have to wait and, most of the time, we end up going home late, brewing another domestic violence challenge with husbands,” the woman stated, adding that women are suffering since they must battle to acquire water.

She lamented the degradation and appropriation of land from the Mupfungautsi forest, which had historically provided a lot of rain. 

“We are peasant farmers who depend on rain to survive, but due to forest destruction and land degradation, rains are becoming erratic, making life extremely difficult for us. Something needs to be done,” Brenda continued.

Another Masvingo farmer from Bikita complained about land grabs for housing and a dangerous garbage site.

Every kind of debris, including used condoms, cans, plastics, and biodegradable, is being dumped at a new disposal site that our municipality established in the Chiseva neighbourhood.

Children who swim in the large ponds dug by sand poachers eventually become ill with cholera and bilharzia, a disease that primarily affects women because they spend so much time in the sick children.

Zimbabwe is currently battling with a national cholera outbreak such that the International Federation of Red Cross, has launched an emergency appeal for 3 million Swiss Francs to support Zimbabwe.

On the one hand Bilharzia is a neglected tropical disease that is caused by parasitic worms in filthy water.

Bilharzia is beginning to emerge as a challenge in Asia, Africa and South America according to World Health Organisation.

Some farmers complained of the patriarchal land laws that seem not to identify women as candidates for land ownership.

Other farmers complained of lack of markets for their produce despite having good harvests. This leads to severe losses as middlemen take advantage.

The biggest elephant in the house was identified in Shurugwi and Zvishavane, where a lot of mining is being done by illegal miners or the Chinese, leading to displacements without compensation.

“We have lost our grazing and farming land, we are no longer secure as so many foreigners are flocking our area in search of minerals leading to displacements, land degradation and water pollution in dams, why can’t EMA protect us,” querried Prisca Chikere a farmer from Shurugwi.

Reactions

In response to challenges raised by farmers, various officials including District Development Coordinators for Bikita and Gutu said they were going to look into the matters.

They exposed glaring gaps in the environmental laws that governs rural land.

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) was taken to task by farmers from all the districts alleging corruption in the manner in which Impact Assessments are being conducted resulting in villagers losing farming land.

On human rights the Gender Commission as well as Women Coalition of Zimbabwe added their voices, calling for more stringed laws against culprits of injustices.  

However, Joanah Mamombe, Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Chairperson on Environment, Climate, Wildlife, Tourism and Hospitality urged farmers to petition parliament on matters of climate justice.

“We have outdated laws regarding environmental management, these laws need some amendments but that can only happen when you farmers issue petitions, it’s legal to petition, take advantage of that,” Joanah said.

Already parliament is ceased with new bills that are coming on the Environment Act, Climate Change, Gender Justice, Land Rights and EMA bill.

Women and Land in Zimbabwe (WLZ) works with rural women to facilitate the eradication of gender discrimination in access, ownership and control of land, natural resources and related opportunities for sustainable livelihoods of socially and economically disadvantaged women in Zimbabwe.

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