Lena Muller is a 52-year old mother and labourer living on a farm in Witzenberg Valley near Ceres in the Western Cape of South Africa. The effects of climate change have forced Lena to find creative ways to put food on the table each day for her 10 family members.
Lena knows first hand that women are especially vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. In the valley, unexpected shifts in weather patterns have changed the availability of important natural resources like water. This has caused the quality, quantity and diversity of food to markedly decrease and prices of food to rise.
Buying food is the top priority for Lena. She has had to defer all other household purchases until the family has additional money. “I put food first because if there isn’t food, children do not go to school happy and the men won’t be happy at work because they lack concentration and get sick if they have nothing in their stomachs”, says Lena.
Women in the region have begun responding to the food shortage by attempting to grow their own vegetables. But access to land remains a significant barrier, as does the changing weather patterns and poor soil quality in the areas in which they live.
Recently Lena decided to leave her job as a seasonal farm worker and join the Dynamic Agri Cooperative supported by Oxfam’s Women on Farms Project. The new organization is focused on finding an area of good land that the woman can farm together. During the start up phase, the Women on Farms Project provides Lena a small stipend once a month to ensure her and her family are able to put food on the table while the organization gets off the ground.
Lena says that the increases in food prices are much higher than the salaries earned by farm
workers. “The salaries are not adjusted as food prices go up, the farmer just gives the salary and assumes that you will cope; he does not factor in the number of payments one should make such as shop debts, children’s school fees and uniforms. He just takes it that the money is all for food”, says Lena.
Lena and other women like her have to deal with food inflation on an almost daily basis.
“Five years ago, flour was cheaper, a two kilogram packet used to cost eight rand but now it costs fifteen rand. A tin of coffee was ten rand and now it is more than twenty four rand”, says Lena.
For more information about Lena’s story visit: http://www.oxfam.org/climate