ON THE International Women’s Day, I would like to talk about goats and climate change and will argue why these issues are fundamental for women’s movement in Bangladesh. This is very important to bring our senses back and ground them on real and concrete life experiences of woman in order to prepare us to grasp a wider, meaningful and practical notion of ‘woman’. The urban elite middle class women of the country often appears not to have clear understanding about ‘women’, but still shapes the agenda of the women’s day with the confidence that their concerns are indeed not about their own class, but about woman in general. It is crucial that we dismantle this hegemonic notion of ‘woman’ and learn how women’s lived experiences and their strategies of survival and resistance are differentiated along the lines of their history, society and geography.
This year the weather condition in late February and early March has been unexpectedly cold, lacking spirit. The first week of March started with 17 degree Celsius with clouds, passing early morning shower to hazy sun. On 8th March the forecast shows 18 degree with plenty of sunshine. But it was warmer last year. On 8th March in 2018, it was 33 degree high, and 23 degree low. Clearly this year is cooler, so is the International Women’s Day. A spell of the ‘climate change’ is felt all over the world with dissipating clouds. Should climate change be a women’s issue on the International women’s day?
With a cooler International Women’s Day celebration, women around the world are demanding for equal rights, social justice, definitive end to violence against women; and this time international women are particularly seeking ‘#BalanceforBetter’; patriarchy, power relations or economy and labouring determined by biology, etc. are of lesser concern. The ideology of gender balanced world has become more hegemonic than more starkly political demands. The conspicuous shift to liberal balancing within the existing capitalist-patriarchal world order spells a chill in women’s movement.
Nevertheless, there is a knock at the door to talk about our survival issues which are at stake not only by patriarchal economic, social and political oppression, but also by ruins in natural and life-affirming biological environment. The climate disaster caused by fossil-fuel based industrial transformation of life dictated and shaped by profit and greed based economic world order is the overwhelming concerns for all, and more so for women. Man-made climatic disaster is leading to loss of biodiversity, affecting access to food and fresh water, leading to extinction of animals and plants, causing outbreak of diseases, threat to the survival of all life forms. Indeed climate change is itself a result of patriarchal economic structure with selfish and arrogant behaviour of industrialised and developed countries particularly the United States, the country that contributes to carbon emission the most, but takes least responsibility for mitigation.
Climate change due to global warming is a major concern that directly affects in a multiple and complex ways the bio-geographical foundation of agriculture, food and genetic diversity. It is particularly disastrous for small and subsistence farming households. The majority women from these farming communities are not in the social circles of celebrating the International women’s day, neither seeking a gender balanced world, but their sheer biological survival is already threatened. They are silently suffering from the vulnerabilities caused by climate change induced disasters.
One should not forget that the international women’s day, from its beginning, was about the survival strategies of the working class women in the industries, who had to move to cities having no work in the rural areas. They were on the streets for demanding reduction of working hours, elimination of slavery and for voting rights. The present urban and middle class women are enjoying the benefits of the achievements of the successful movements of women workers in the early twentieth century.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2015, Bangladesh is the sixth hardest hit country by climate disasters caused by greenhouse gas emissions among 180 nations during the period of 1994–2013, despite the fact that country emits less than 0.35 per cent of global emission. The middle and upper class city dwellers through their lifestyle, knowingly or unknowingly, contribute to CO2 emission. So our personal lifestyle has consequences for the rural poor communities who are suffering from unpredicted natural disasters. The ever increasing number of cars, high rise buildings with electric lifts, air conditioners and other energy consuming devices in Dhaka city are contributing to warming. The warmer the city is, the more use of air conditioners. Elites in the rural areas follow similar urban life styles. But on the other hand, farming communities are constantly adapting to climatic variability.
However, the impact of climate change affects men and women differently based on their different roles and responsibilities and their level of access to natural and other resources. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC report of 2007) recognised women as one of the most vulnerable group. Studies show that women are responsible for 70 per cent of the world’s work, yet they are disproportionately more vulnerable to climate change than men. But little is known about the actual capacity of the communities differentiated by social status and gender to adapt to or anticipate the consequences of climate change and develop viable coping strategies.
In order to highlight the meaning of ‘lifestyle’, here, I would like to refer to some livelihood struggles of rural women in Bangladesh. This is crucial to avoid generalised category, such as ‘woman’, and internationalising abstract notion of ‘woman’ that hardly corresponds to real life situation of women, in different societies and historical times. Unlike urban women, these women are contributing to the family income as well as to the economy without contributing to CO2 emissions. Poor women are known for goat keeping. Let’s see how the goat keeping is an adaptation mechanism for climate change vulnerabilities.
Climate change and goat keeping
THE climate change is a major concern for the livestock keeping. It is a common knowledge that livestock animals (cattle, sheep and goats) may be affected due to excessive rains, floods, drought, cold, fogs etc. But it is not much known that livestock keeping may also cause Green House Gas emissions released particularly from animals (enteric fermentation), for the manure and feed production and from the areas which are used as grassland. Among the livestock animals, goats contribute the least only 3 per cent; cattle 77 per cent and sheep 23 per cent according to a study in Turkey.
According to Food and Agriculture Organisation the developing countries at tropics have 94 per cent of the world’s goat population. The role of goats in maintaining sustainable food security has been widely demonstrated in unfavourable semi-arid tropical conditions. The ability to survive and reproduction of goats in harsh environmental conditions has been attributed to adaptation, as they deliver multiple products and services, and make valuable contribution especially to the rural poor women.
Studies have also shown that goats can withstand heat stress and can endure prolonged water deprivation, making them more adaptable to adverse climatic and geographical conditions, where cattle and sheep cannot survive. Goats have shown themselves to be an extremely adaptable livestock species, by being found at any altitude and different agro-ecological regions. There are three aspects of dietary behaviour of goats which makes them adapt to varying environmental conditions and these are selectivity, degree of browsing/grazing and flexibility. As browsers goats, have simple digestive system with profuse saliva production to efficiently process their feed. Behavioural adaptation plays a major role in goat production. Migration and use of shade during feeding have been used to an advantage by goats.
Why goat keeping as climate change adaptation?
IN THE face of the challenge of climate change, Nayakrishi Andolon (New Agriculture Movement), a movement of 350,000 Bangladeshi farmers, practicing biodiversity-based ecological agriculture by blending innovative science and indigenous knowledge, has set as goal to develop farming strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy and products.
Goat keeping, a livelihood strategy for poor women in the landless families, is taken up by Nayakrishi in different areas vulnerable to climate change — the coastal area in Cox’s bazar, river erosion areas in Jamuna Char and drought prone areas in Pabna and Natore. While the farming communities have been cultivating saline, flood and drought resistant rice varieties to cope with climate vulnerabilities, the poor landless women were raising specific goat breeds, the Black Bengal and Pati.
It is indeed true that the climate change is likely to create indirect impacts on the quality and amount of goat feeds, feeding strategies, seasonal usability of grasslands, breeding, disease and mortality. Two breeds of goat, black Bengal and Pati (local breed) were identified appropriate and suitable in relation of survival in specific climatic condition, fodder and disease resistance. In drought climatic zone i.e. Pabna, women preferred Black Bengal. In river erosion zone i.e. Sirajganj district, the women preferred Pati (local breed). Women’s preference is mostly based on feeding and reproductive characteristics of the goats. The goat becomes pregnant after one year of its birth. Most goats give birth to a single kid at first pregnancy, two kids in the second delivery.
In areas affected by problem of salinity, for example in Cox’s Bazaar, women preferred both Black Bengal and Pati breed. The climatic adaptation of these two breeds looked much better and both breeds know how to swim during high tide — they take shelter in raised land and can swim back to the shore if necessary.
The Breed ‘Black Bengal’ is common all over the country, but in each area they have been locally adapted. Black Bengal goats in Pabna and Sirajganj are different from those in Cox’s Bazar. In Cox’s Bazar Black Bengal goats are smaller in size but very strong to go into the saline water in the river, can swim if the high tide comes and finds its own fodder. The skin of Black Bengal is very famous so has great demand.
There are 34.0 million goats in Bangladesh and Black Bengal goats make up more than 90 per cent which is famous for meat and skin in the world and in fact, if we recognise, it is the contribution of the poorer women in the country.
The feed of the goats are very crucial. It is not true that goats eat anything ‘Chagole ki na khay’ as the Bengali saying goes. It needs special care with feed offered from the household (leftover rice, wheat bran mixed with water); it takes special grasses during grazing on the roadsides, on the pond banks or other open spaces. It loves durba grass (Bermuda grass), arail grass, pail grass, leaves of jackfruit, plum, guava, neem trees. It does not like rice straw at all. With water, goats are very selective, no muddy water, not even cold water. Water has to be warm and clean. The Black Bengal breed of goat does not like harvested grass. It loves grazing in the field under the sun. Durba (Bermuda grass ), shama ( jungle rice), vadale (nut grass), kolmi (water spinach) and other soft herbs grow in abundance, very much like by the goats. Some of these are available round the year.
Poor women go in the open spaces for grazing goats. The goats have rope on their neck while grazing on the road sides, on the bank of the canals or ponds as they may go into others’ crop land. The goat rests under trees. The goat needs constant care for security. Women raise them with care as their own children, their own family member.
The implication for climate change adaptability is that through raising the goats, the poor landless women are making sure about preservation of biodiversity, such as different varieties of grasses, herbs, trees for leaves as feed and for grazing of the goats. Development activities are destroying many sources of goat grazing fields. While raising a goat is an economic activity for these poor women, they are contributing by producing mutton (as source of protein), milk and the skin (as leather) without creating pressure on the emission of greenhouse gas.
On the international women’s day, can these women be recognised by policy makers over the lunch with mutton biriyani? Will policy makers and the urban consumers of mutton take notice of the need of preserving the goat feed sources?
But more important is this: are we as woman, recognise and understand the value of life strategies and resistance of women against climate change, fossil-fuel based industrial lifestyle and greedy global order?
Farida Akhter is the executive director of UBINIG and organiser of Nayakrishi Andolon.