The recent Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP15), held in Abidong the most important meetings focused on tackling land degradation until the next UNCCD COP occurs in 2024. Pivotal decisions were made by national leaders, and a new narrative was put forth on how we discuss and think about land.
However, some of the most important voices to be heard were of those who are closest to the continent’s landscapes: women. Women produce some 70 percent of food in Africa and are often the main managers of family and community lands, even if they lack legal rights to it. And so, alongside the official negotiations – and to help give meaning to them – Landscape News took a few moments to capture stories and memories shared from pan-African women about their home landscapes.
“The place where I grew up is a place that is one of the coldest areas in the country, that is always misty and has this dense, Indigenous forest. And when I was a little girl, we used to go there to collect firewood and enjoy these musty areas under the trees and play there. But what is sad these days is that when I go there, I actually feel sorry for my children, that they are not experiencing what I experienced during my time.”
“I remember when I was 5 years old, I was living in the northern part of Cote d’Ivoire. Over there it’s very dry, so we have a lot of sand areas, and I remember playing in front of my grandmother’s house and playing in the sand. And when I was playing in the sand, it started to rain. And when it rained, when the water touched the ground, the smell of the sand changed, and I really, really loved that smell. So every time when it rains and I’m near the beach or something, it reminds me of this memory of when I was living at the time in the northern part of Cote d’Ivoire.”
“I’m the director of the Kenya Land Alliance, and what I’ve realized – as we’ve spoken about land tenure, we’ve spoken about land rights, we’ve spoken about land degradation – is that it resonates with my own life, where when I was growing up my father had land to give us. Somewhere to grow our crops, somewhere we can play as kids. He eventually gave me a small portion as a woman to be able to put up anything I want. When I started to practice law, I noticed that so many women and communities do not even have land tenure. That really is depressing, because some of these people do not even have somewhere they can be buried. Each time you’re meeting with people, they’re miserable. They don’t have somewhere to get their livelihoods, their sustainability. And that makes me wake up every morning to get secure tenure, to go support communities to improve their own livelihoods and their own food security. And, that said, I’m excited because we are making milestones – though slow – but milestones. Right now, we have a progressive legislative framework, [from] which most women can get justice. We have a progressive framework in Kenya, where communities can actually claim their rights. At a personal level, I’m always glad when I see a community claiming their rights to land.”
“I come from the Lagunes Region, especially from Anyama. I’m from the Attie group. When we were young, we used to go to the field with my grandma. She used to take us on Thursdays because we didn’t have classes that day. She used to take us to the field, and we loved it because we saw things we weren’t used to – fruits, trees – and we would cross the swamp. We loved that life. We also used to go to the field with my grandma and dig up turnips with her. For us, it was like playing a game. We loved it because those are things that we won’t forget, when we used to go away with her. It was a joy. At night, we used to go back with a load of corn and turnips. That’s my story.”
“I’m part of the Coordination Nationale des Jeunes pour l’Environnement et le Climat (National Coordination of Youth for Environment and Climate) in Burkina Faso. Earth is life and the source of life. We live thanks to the Earth. We cultivate the land. When I was a child, I followed my parents to the field, but I wasn’t aware of the importance of land. It was when I was older that I recognized its importance. It was then that I started working on it. And that is why I’m participating in the COP15 in Abidjan.”
“I would like to tell you a story about my land. Where I come from in Congo-Brazzaville is quite green, just like here in Ivory Coast. It reminds me of my roots. To be attached to your roots is to be a great person. It reminds you of how powerful you can be. I am used to going inside the country so I can retreat and reconnect with nature. I do it with the girls I actually lead and with a group of people that are all around me. My environment, the one I have to work in, also has to be connected with nature so that we can go toward the same vision. So I encourage you to love your land, to share with people where you come from, and to be proud of it. Because this is what actually makes you.”