|Africa's Valuable Assets - A Reader in Natural Resource Management (WRI, 1998, 464 pages)|
|9. Gender, Sustainable Development, and Improved Resource Management in Africa|
|Constraints on Women's Effectiveness in Natural Resource Management|
As environmental degradation worsens, women spend more time and work harder meeting daily food and energy needs. As fuelwood sources become depleted, land becomes denuded, soils erode, and water sources dry up or become polluted.47 Many elders, particularly women who grew up in Goviefe-Agodome in Ghana, have experienced such changes vividly and remember the first signs of significant soil loss and land degradation in the 1970s, when they watched gullies enlarge and the nearby stream dry up, depleting the area's water supplies.
Evidence from many countries shows that the total time spent on fuelwood collection is growing as forests get cleared for timber extraction and agriculture.48,49 Carrying loads of up to 35 kilograms, women must travel ever longer distances, sometimes as far as 10 kilometers.50 In Malshegu, Ghana, for example, "fuelwood gathering is increasingly constrained by the gradual but persistent disappearance of vegetation, resulting in decreased fuelwood quality and quantity." In the Sudan, over a 10-year period, the time taken to collect fuelwood increased more than fourfold.51 Sometimes, poor women are forced to purchase fuelwood or other basic resource needs, though few can afford it.52 In some areas, dung is used as an energy source for cooking instead of as fertilizer, even though burning dung in this household context can cause serious health problems.
In the face of growing degradation, collecting wild forest products such as fibers, forage, and nuts grows harder, as documented in the Oboto study. Water collection requires women to walk longer and longer distances as water supplies get depleted. More time spent on collecting forest products and water means less time spent on food production or other income-earning activities. As land becomes increasingly degraded, soil quality and productivity decline and women spend time trying to produce the same from less, or they use more energy moving from field to field. In Oboto, Nigeria, farm holdings are becoming "small, patchy, and scattered" from erosion, so women must spend more time farming.
These trends escalate into nutritional and health problems, as well as having other adverse social impacts. For example, the reduction of arable land and the decline in soil fertility mean less food to meet family needs.53 When energy resources grow scarce, women cook fewer hot meals or skip meals altogether. Annual food consumption may fall as a result. These pressures and other socioeconomic problems have combined to bring per capita caloric consumption to dangerously low levels in some African countries.54 "The period when women could supply adequate food... has been replaced with the ceaseless travails and suffering," reports the Oboto case study. In turn, the need to import food has grown.55 The decline of water supplies takes a toll on sanitation as well, leading to the spread of infectious diseases and to other health problems.
The loss of plant genetic diversity, along with the increasing diffusion of uniform crop varieties, is another environmental trend that can have gender-differentiated impacts. Women with unique knowledge of the values of multiple species in polycultural home gardens lose status and opportunities when medicinal plants are replaced by cash crops. In Oboto, for instance, traditional healing practices are on the decline, and households are forced to purchase medicinal products that they cannot afford, or to suffer without any medicines.