Climate for change

Four stories. Four continents. Four inspirational women.

Join us as we journey around the globe to meet four women on the frontline of the fight against climate change. Learn how they are meeting the formidable challenges their communities face and what governments can – and must – do about it.


Determined. Whatever the weather.

My name is Ipaishe Masvingise. I am 46 years old, but I don’t look so bad do I!

A beaming Ipaishe comes barrelling down the dirt path, her brightly coloured top skirt streaming out behind her in the wind, ready to begin her day’s work tending to her crops. Right now, her plot of land is bursting with maize. She’s looking forward to a bumper harvest.

“I love my plot. It’s amazing and so green. Who would think it could come from this dry earth,” she says, gesturing to the adjacent land which lies fallow and dusty. The difference could not be starker. Irrigation is doing amazing things here.

We are in Gutu district, Zimbabwe where rainfall is becoming increasingly scarce year on year. But the real killer is that it is also becoming more unpredictable. It wasn’t always this way. Climate change is putting the seasons out of sync. Farmers no longer know when to plant their crops, pushing generations of agricultural knowledge and skill to the limit.

“If we look into the skies…”

Ipaishe comes from a long line of farmers. “Over the last ten years the climate has changed,” she says. “If the rains are too little or more than we need, it drastically affects our way of life. Once, there was a lot of rain and all of our crops were destroyed. Another time, the rains came as normal but finished very early, and the crops wilted and died due to the heat.

“Farming is the only livelihood we have. The food we grow makes us healthy and strong, and we can sell the surplus to pay for school and hospital fees.

“If we look into the skies and see that there isn’t going to be much rain we will be frightened because we’ll be forced to ration our food. This affects the health of our children.”

Going with the flow

I love my plot. It’s amazing and so green.

Ipaishe bends down to dip one end of a flexible plastic pipe into the narrow concrete channel and cups the other end to create a vacuum, drawing a steady flow of water through and on to her crop.

Ipaishe’s story is testament to what small-scale farmers can do with the modest sums of money needed to turn their ideas into reality. Their irrigation project has been nothing short of life-changing for Ipaishe and other farmers in Gutu. They now have a reliable water source when they need it, and are much better equipped to cope with whatever the changing weather throws at them.

As a single mum left to bring up her son following the death of her husband, Ipaishe knows first-hand how desperately vulnerable climate change is leaving millions of poor farmers, particularly women.  She’s been there. That’s why she is so passionate about her role in the project – talking to other farmers who are not yet benefiting from the irrigation and bringing them on board – and vocal about the causes of and solutions to climate change:

Think then how much could be achieved in Zimbabwe and beyond if world leaders find the political will to to put up the money people on the frontline of climate change need to survive and thrive in the face of the changing weather.
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“We can’t just ignore this.”

I think it’s very important for people to get together, raising their voices and saying we want the people that can act to listen.

Several thousand kilometres away, another woman farmer lost in her thoughts looks across a lake that, save the odd pylon, fence post or marooned patch of land, stretches as far the eye can see. She sighs and shakes her head sadly:

“Everybody needs to realise we can’t just ignore this.” Liz Crew is the first to sympathise with farmers whose lives have been turned upside down by climate change. Because she’s one of them.

Liz is a smallholder on the Somerset Levels in southwest England. She kept poultry, sheep and pigs here until she was forced to sell them after unprecedented rainfall left local farmland and homes under water for over two months in 2013-14.

“We have to accept that the climate has changed. We’re getting wetter, warmer winters. We’re getting extreme weather that we’ve never had before.”

People in rich countries are usually less vulnerable to the effects of climate change than the world’s poorest communities, but the loss of a livelihood or home can still be financially and emotionally devastating. That’s how it’s been for Liz – you can hear it in her voice:

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It has made me feel very insecure. All the houses with the water lapping round [them] and the people gone and children’s toys floating away. I was just overwhelmed. It really does cloud your life… that these things are out of your control.”

Act locally. Act globally.

The ordeal has been a wake-up call to Liz about where we’re headed if we don’t tackle runaway climate change, but she’s not taking it lying down. She’s joined a local action group to make sure that plans to protect communities living on the Levels are put in place for the long-term so that there is no repeat of this crisis.  She also believes that, in Paris and beyond, the time has come for concerted global action:


“It needs to start from us”

If you want something you can get it – it’s just about the power inside you, the willingness to keep trying.

From the inundated lowlands of England’s southwest to the now-parched lowlands of Bolivia’s northeast, the only constant as you follow the impacts of climate change around the globe is the suffering it is causing.

In one small rural community, clucking chickens dodge dogs stretched out listlessly in the afternoon heat, foraging for stray grains. The villagers have gathered in the shade of some fruit trees, and are reminiscing about a time when plump fruit weighed down every branch. Not any more. They welcome their special guest and the meeting starts.

Carmen is a community organiser who visits farming communities affected by climate change everywhere from Guayaramerin to Riberalta and speaks to local authorities here on their behalf.

Her smoky green eyes are piercing yet gentle, and she exudes a quiet authority. She listens carefully to what the farmers have to say. It’s a story she’s heard a thousand times before: how, even here in the Amazon basin, there is no longer enough water for their crops.

Here, most families make a living growing fruit. People remember a time when harvests were good and the fruit delicious and ripe.

“The changing climate has seriously affected our rains, which means that the fruit that does grow is dry and unfit for sale. We now need to water constantly – we cannot afford to let plants die as we rely on them for our income, and we must do whatever needs to be done,” says Carmen.

People power

Carmen is a farmer herself – in fact, a leader of a prospering community of cocoa producers who use a sustainable farming technique called ‘agroforestry’. So she really knows what she’s talking about. The experience and activism of people like Carmen are vital to link the fight against climate change, all the way from the grassroots to the global stage.

”It needs to start from us, from our experience. I go to the local authorities, who have to give us a response, and then they need to go to the government – that’s their job.”

Experience has taught Carmen that, whether it’s securing local funding or a global climate deal in Paris, everyone has a part to play:

“My message to people would be let’s get organised, let’s talk. Climate change is everywhere, not only in Bolivia. Politicians should understand that it is damaging all of us. We all need to get together and put pressure on the people in power.”

What is agroforestry?

In agroforestry, trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops. Increasingly, poor smallholder farmers are using this technique to adapt to climate change. The trees and shrubs help stabilise soil against erosion, and improve water and soil quality, as well as supplement the main crop with an extra harvest. Depending on the shrubs planted, this could be anything from tea or  coffee to plants for extracting oil or fodder for animals.

The Philippines

“Imagine the impact we could have”

Meeting Langging in her family home, she is polite and dutiful – a daughter to make any parent proud. A little shy and quiet, perhaps. But watch her at work as a local youth leader on the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines and it quickly becomes clear she is no shrinking violet. This Langging is feisty, animated, outspoken and up for the fight against climate change.

In local communities around the world, the search for solutions – both practical and political – to living with climate change is increasingly falling to a new generation of young people like Langging, who know from personal experience how devastating it is.

In the Philippines, extreme weather events have cost thousands of lives in recent years: in 2013, Typhoon Haiyan – the strongest storm ever to make landfall – killed over 6,000 people and made nearly two million homeless.

“In my opinion it is not fair on us. We are not the main contributors to climate change. But in these times, we should not blame each other. If we do what is right and start with ourselves, imagine the impact we could have,” says Langging, her eyes lighting up.

The fact that Langging is so upbeat and not bitter is all the more remarkable since climate change has already permanently altered the course of her own life. Langging loved going to school and had high hopes of training as a vet so she could support her community. That was until the weather started to become so erratic that her family’s harvest failed and left her parents unable to pay her school fees.

But at just 20 years of age, Langging is wise beyond her years, and can see that there is too much at stake to waste time pointing the finger at the world’s worst polluters, however tempting that might be. She is deeply concerned about what climate change is doing to the community she loves and she wants the world to know about it.

Unable to continue her education but fiercely intelligent, she became a Youth Leader for her local area instead, and now brings together groups of young people in order to hear their experiences of the effects of climate change, and share them with local decision-makers.

“Climate change is a big concern for young people like me. Because of the rising  temperatures, it’s already hard to grow crops. What will it be like over the next 10 years? The next few decades? I worry how we are going to survive these longer dry spells.

“It is important for us to tell the government officials what issues young people have in terms of climate change and [see] what support they can give us.”


Stopping climate change making people hungry

Globally, 2015 was the hottest year since records began. Climate change is dramatically changing the world we love. It’s putting our homes, our land and our food at risk. For nearly a billion people in poverty, more extreme weather and more climate disasters mean more hunger.

As this journey ends, we cross continents to where another one is just beginning. This December in Paris, we have an amazing opportunity to build on thousands of inspiring stories from the Philippines, Bolivia, Zimbabwe and beyond – and kickstart thousands more.


Deal or no deal?

World leaders are meeting in the French capital for UN climate talks to take decisions that affect us all – but especially those whose lives and livelihoods are most at risk. We need them to agree a global deal that shows that fossil fuels, the biggest drivers of climate change, are on the way out and financial support to help women and their communities cope with the impacts of climate change is on the way up.

Combined with the energy, experience and know-how of talented small-scale farmers around the world, countless communities could adapt and weather the effects of climate change better and work their way out of poverty.

Deal or no deal, the fight against climate change carries on regardless, but will world leaders realise that opportunities like Paris don’t come around every day? Will they seize the opportunity to set serious change in motion or carry on tinkering at the edges?


Ipaishe. Liz. Carmen. Langging. YOU?

Millions of people across the world are already doing incredible things to protect their communities. The fight against climate change doesn’t end this year but with genuine political will, we can win some important battles.

Join us and let’s show our governments and big business that they’ve got to take urgent action to tackle climate change, and stand with those hit first and worst by its devastating effects.

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