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Adaptation of Women to Climate Variability in the Southern Slopes of the Rumpi Hills of Cameroon

Submitted by Julia Barrott 20th April 2017 18:36
Map of study area and target villages (Figure 1 from page 2 (273) of the journal paper)

Map of study area and target villages (Figure 1, page 273 of the journal paper) 

Introduction

At local scales, climate variability exerts a significant control on livelihood activities across Africa. This variability exacerbates environmental threats such as deforestation, water scarcity and land degradation, which adversely affect long and short term livelihood prospects. 

Given the different roles and responsibilities of men and women at the household and community levels, climate variability is known to have different impacts on each gender. Women are involved in and depend on livelihood activities directly linked to the natural environment, and are often poorer and receive little or no education. Additionally, due to cultural norms, related to gender and social inequality, women are less involved in political and household decision-making processes which affect their lives. 

In this study, we examine local scale climate variability over a 38-year period, and its impacts on the livelihood strategies of local women in the Southern Slopes of the Rumpi Hills of Cameroon. We also assess the various adaptation strategies employed in coping with these impacts.  

Below are the key methods and findings from this article, which was published in the journal Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in November 2016 (Volume 5, Issue 6, pp 272-279).

The full text can be downloaded from the right-hand column of this page.

Methodology

The study was carried-out along the southern slopes of the Rumpi Hills Forests located between 4° N 9° E, in Ekondo Titi Municipality, Ndian Division of South West Cameroon (see figure 1). These southern slopes are characterized by vast lowlands with undulating hills. The area has two seasons: a dry season from December to February and a rainy season from May to October. Mean monthly maximum temperature in the dry season is 31.8°C and in the rainy season 18.2°C. The relative humidity is high during most of the year.

Using a simple random sampling method, we identified individuals for the focus group discussions and undertook individual questionnaires and focus group discussions. Data were collected from identified women about their livelihood activities, changes that have taken place within the past 38 years and how they have been coping with these changes. About 858 women in six villages were surveyed. Where potential participants were unable to read or to understand the English or French language, the local Pidgin English or Oroko dialect were used to ensure proper understanding.

In addition, we examined local scale changes in weather conditions including mean monthly rainfall, minimum and maximum temperatures from 1976-2014 obtained from a meteorological station on the Pamol Plantations Plc Lobe Estate located in the southern slopes of the Rumpi Hills.

Adaptation Options

The following practices are being used by the women in Rumpi Hills to reduce the impacts of adverse weather (these are summarised in Table 2 below):

  • To curb the washing away of seeds/crops, poor seed germination and stunted growth, women practice re-ploughing, replanting and changing planting dates with respect to the onset of the first rains. Furthermore, instead of the traditional tilling and planting most women tend to make mounds in which to plant seeds, as these provide better resistance to stormy weather. 
  • Mixed-cropping, which involves the planting of different types of crops (ranging from vegetables to fruit trees) on the same piece of land is carried-out. This supports the recycling and use of dead organic matter as natural manure for other crops that mature later in the season. The fruit trees (e.g. bush mango, Irvingia gabonensis; plum, Dacryodes edulis; avocado, Persea americana; Mango, Mangifera indica) planted on the same piece of land, also serve as wind breaks, support to the climbing crops and as shades to crops that are more vulnerable to increased precipitations and temperatures.
  • To prevent the spread of pests and diseases on farms, crop species that are more vulnerable to attack are replaced by more resistant (hybrids). For instance cassava is mostly substituted for plantain because it has a shorter growth period and is less affected by high winds. Additionally, donated or purchased pesticides, insecticides and fungicides are used inorder to eliminate the effect of on farm disease-causing vectors.
  • Shifting cultivation has been adopted, since a particular piece of land cannot support long periods of cultivation. This requires access to available land while the previously cultivated land is left to fallow. Individuals with a single piece of land practice what is commonly known as 'two party', whereby at harvest time, the crops are shared with the land owner on the basis of usually a verbal agreement.
  • The re-use of household organic matter, especially crop residues, is used as manure for the cultivated crops to increase soil nutrients and as mulch to shield from radiant heat, heavy rains and high winds. In a bid to remedy water stresses, watering cans and hand buckets are used to manually water near-by farms. Water for individual consumption and household use is usually obtained from wells (bore-holes) of neighbors or distant sources, especially during the dry season when near-by streams run dry. 

Local adaptation approaches against climate variability (Table 2 from page 276 of the paper) [Right-click and open in new tab for higher resolution image]

Lessons Learnt

  • Analysing temperature and rainfall trends from 1976-2014 showed that both climatic parameters have been changing over time, with significant inter-annual fluctuations in the amount of rainfall the area receives.
  • Mean minimum and maximum temperatures have consistently varied from 1976 to 2014, with the annual mean maximum temperature steadily increasing over the observed 38 year period.
  • The reported shift in the onset of rainfall and a consequent shorter rainy season is resulting in poor harvests due to poor seed germination, stunted growth and drying or reddishness of crops as a result of increased temperatures and a drop in water resources availability. This situation is further worsened by the washing away of seeds or crops, the blowing down of crops and extinction of some cocoyam species, due to flooding from heavy rains, winds as well as high incidents of pests and diseases (see table 1 below).
  • Data obtained from questionnaires showed 89% of the respondents believed average temperatures had increased, 58% thought rainfall had decreased while 82% believed winds had increased in intensity, occurrence and prevalence.
  • Farming, harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and animal rearing were the major activities carried out by most women. Alongside these major activities, some women were involved in fishing and petty trading of food crops.
  • By adjusting sowing dates, adopting higher-yielding and changing cropping patterns, local women are adapting and mitigating these impacts (see adaptation options identified below).

Local scale observable impacts of climate variability. Table 1, from page 276 of the paper: [Right-click and open in new tab for higher resolution image]

Further Resources