Men and women relate to trees differently and this matters in landscape restoration, says Marlène Elias, Gender Specialist at Bioversity International and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. In a recent blog for IUCN, she takes us to Burkina Faso, a country where she became enamored with the mighty shea tree, a tree of vital importance to Africa's Sudano-Sahelian communities living in the savanna.
Marlène Elias urges us to consult both women and men when looking for the best species to introduce into a degraded landscape. She reminds us that "landscapes are influenced by socio-cultural systems and different interests of community members, who rely on distinct tree species or varieties and use their gender-specific skills to manage and utilize these. The shea tree is an example of this."
Through her work in Burkina Faso, Marlène has seen that the shea tree is often spared when farmers clear land for cultivation. This 'tree of life' provides shade for crops, its green fruit "fills bellies and market stalls, its roots hold soil nourished by its fallen leaves", she writes.
Across Africa, household chores are often divided according to gender; this in turn shapes the different ways in which women and men to relate to trees. For example, in the case of the shea tree, women are the custodians of knowledge concerning the gathering and processing of shea products. In her blog, Marlène describes women's ingenious use of the shea nut, bark, roots and leaves: to increase milk production in lactating mothers, to relieve those suffering from malaria and to make the traditional benga dish. Since they are not the ones to process shea nuts into butter, men are less concerned about the traits of shea nuts that yield quality butter but "male farmers prize the tree […] for its shade and its role in improving the fertility of the soil in their fields".
Read the original blog post 'The Mighty Shea: How women and men sculpt landscapes - and why this matters for restoration' here.
Photo: Young woman processing shea nuts. Credit: Bioversity International/B. Vinceti