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Rural Farmers Protest “Climate Apartheid” in Durban

by Cole Mellino

As the climate talks unfold in Durban, South Africa, farmers all over the world are feeling the impact of extreme weather exacerbated by a warming planet.

Changing weather patterns, especially rainfall, are having disastrous affects on global crops. Last year in the Caribbean, banana and vegetable crops were hit hard by months of drought followed by torrential rains that resulted in flooding. The story is the same in Southern Africa. Droughts and erratic rainfall in the South African desert are destroying the Redbush tea plant, known by its Afrikaner name Rooibos. In other areas of the world, a range of agricultural products like coffee, chocolate, peanuts, and pumpkins are all being harmed by extreme weather.

But farmers in Africa — a continent that would be worst hit by climate change — are not idly sitting by. Protesting outside the Durban climate talks, members of the Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly are expressing their frustration with international inaction on climate:

“We’ve come to join other rural women farmers from the southern African region,” said Thandiure Chidararume, a member of ActionAid, an international organization that helped bring together this meeting of the Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly. “We have come as one voice from Africa, we are saying no to damning deals, Africa is not for sale, we want this air pollution that is causing climate change to stop now.”

The assembly unites women’s farming and agricultural unions and movements from around the world.

Women from all across Africa, some as far north as Kenya, came out to the rally at a Kawaulu-Natal University in Durban, several kilometers from the downtown convention center where the more subdued, official meetings on climate change are taking place.

The protesters, who also have the support of women’s movements in Latin America, do not believe that government negotiators represent their interests.

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They lament the inaction by developed countries, and point to schemes in which biofuel companies or other firms buy land in countries in Africa and Latin America to make money off of trading carbon credits. These land grabs drive people off the land and often don’t reduce carbon emissions. That’s why Mercia Andrews, the director of the South African Trust for Community Outreach and Education, calls the situation “climate apartheid”:

“We have a responsibility, we have to begin to mobilize and we have the power. We have shaken this country before, we brought down apartheid, now is another turn. This is a bigger struggle, a more important struggle and this is a struggle that we must unite around. We must say, ‘No, to climate apartheid, no.’ “

The concerns are real, said Theresa Marwei, an activist from Zimbabwe.

“I think if we can agree, all the countries that we are here, not to let the air be polluted, because we are having hunger, no water to drink, no gardens, no money to send our children to school because no rain,” she said. “If the rain comes it will be floods, we can’t do anything.”

This group of women representing rural farming interests is just one of many protesting outside the Durban climate talks in an attempt to get negotiators to see the human consequences of their actions.

— Cole Mellino is an intern with the energy team at the Center for American Progress