Global Resources

Seeds of adaptation: climate change, crop diversification, and the role of women farmers

Author: R. Vernooy
Publication Date: Jan 2015

Around the world, women farmers are taking a leading role in implementing strategies aimed at crop variety conservation and diversification, with the goal of strengthening local climate change adaptation capacities. That is the message conveyed in this gender brief by the Center for International Forestry Research. The brief begins by outlining the problem: political, social, economic, and environmental changes are putting pressure on farmers’ seed systems, systems in which women play a key role. However, these women are often overlooked by researchers and development personnel, policies, and programmes. This context is then expanded upon, with the brief noting that every stage of local seed systems, from selection, to storage, production, distribution, and exchange, is under growing stress. Privatisation, rural to urban migration, a growing feminisation of agriculture, climate changes, and declining crop varieties are all significant contributors to the insecurity of women and local seed systems.


Two case studies are then concisely discussed to illustrate the central role women are playing in tackling these issues. Firstly, the story of Pema, who lives with her parents, husband, and daughter in Bhutan, who, together with the rest of their village, are trying to adapt to climate change through crop and rice diversification. The brief presents Pema’s own words as she describes the difficulties they have faced through the damage caused by wild boars, and the reduction of water due to drought. The second case study concerns crop and variety conservation in South Africa via the initiation of a national community seed bank to support local smallholder communities in efforts to revive and improve their traditional seed-saving practices. One such community has women front and centre, in the form of the Gumbu village community seed bank, managed and operated by 40 women farmers.