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By Mercy Abusta, MPS '24
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

In the wake of Nigeria's devastating 2022 floods, Mercy Awazi Abutsa, MPS ’24, a dedicated advocate for climate action and rural development, found renewed purpose. Inspired by the urgent need to address climate change alongside existing vulnerabilities in Africa, Mercy embarked on a journey to empower her nation's youth. Through her Global Development studies at Cornell and hands-on fieldwork in Northern Nigeria, she spearheaded 'Climedu Nigeria,' a youth organization committed to fostering climate responsibility through education and training. Mercy's fieldwork delved into the realities of climate-resilient farming, revealing both the awareness and challenges faced by local smallholder farmers. Let’s dive in as Mercy shares her experiences on campus and in the field as a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) student in Global Development and as an Institute for African Development Fellow at Cornell. 

Youth as agents of change

In 2022, my home country of Nigeria experienced severe floods that resulted in the displacement of over 1.4 million people, as well as the death of 600 people. This environmental disaster opened my eyes not only to the severity of climate change but also to how we as development professionals in Africa are in a unique position to confront climate change adaption and governance alongside existing challenges in Africa. As these challenges persist and escalate the threat of food security, well-being, displacement, and biodiversity loss, we must consider the role that local communities, particularly youth, play in making sustainable change. It is with that vision that I am homing in on policy development, implementation, analysis, and evaluation of issues within climate change and rural development in my studies at Cornell. 

In my first semester of the program, my Global Development courses prepared me to create a youth organization in Nigeria. The organization that I founded, “Climedu Nigeria,” seeks to nurture a culture of climate responsibility among Nigerian youth through education and training on essential climate-related skills. 

The course “Youth Organizations and Leadership Development” (GDEV5350 taught by Jeff Perry) played a pivotal role in helping me shape this concept into a reality. Through strategic planning and program development, I was inspired to launch the organization to reshape public perceptions of climate change in Nigeria. 

I believe that youth are enthusiastic advocates and push governments to be held accountable. In Nigeria, youth are more proactive since our education has exposed us to more issues that climate change poses in terms of food security, inequalities and poverty. The creativity of young people can create more strategies to combat climate change. I have been inspired by other youth organizations in the Global South that have made climate change a significant issue, telling the stories of frontline communities and locally led solutions, and hope that Climedu Nigeria can follow in their footsteps. 

Photos from the field

In the field: Climate-resilient farming 

During winter break, I embarked on field research for my MPS capstone project. I engaged with local smallholder farmers in Northern Nigeria and delved into their perspectives on climate change, understanding their adaptation strategies through local knowledge, and examining their transition from traditional to climate-resilient farming practices. 

Contrary to prevailing narratives that local communities lack an understanding of climate change and often attribute it to cultural causes, my fieldwork provided a firsthand experience of farmers who are notably aware of the drastic changes in the weather. I also met farmers who held the belief that climate change encompasses both positive and negative consequences to several crops grown in Northern Nigeria. Engaging with these farmers allowed me to explore the unique ecological indicators they employ to predict extreme weather events for farming activities. While some smallholder farmers are transitioning to controlled systems like greenhouses, they face challenges in adapting to rising temperatures within these structures. 

My time in the field also reinforced the importance of community involvement on topics of food security and climate change. Forming farmer’s cooperatives remains crucial to fostering resilience since farmers heavily rely on each other for support. My fieldwork experience also challenged my preconceived notions about language being a barrier to communication, allowing me to find diverse ways to integrate into local cultures I never knew in Northern Nigeria. I see how this facilitated behavioral change for farmers in terms of learning practices for climate adaptation. They were open to talking and learning about practices. I had the opportunity to speak to people in the World Bank project ACRESAL, hybrid farms, and Eden Green Farms, which is creating technologies that determine humidity of greenhouses and soil health. 

Before the fieldwork, I anticipated engaging with more women on farmlands, given existing literature describing them as the majority of the farming population in Nigeria. However, I observed a limited visibility of women on farmlands, indicative of their subjugation through traditional roles in the home that offer minimal contribution to agriculture. This poses a significant challenge to achieving gender equality in the agricultural sector, despite existing policies promoting such equality in Nigeria.

A vision for the future 

The impact of my work is rooted in the transformative changes it can bring to the lives of vulnerable populations and communities, often marginalized, and carry a profound sense of hope as they grapple with the impact of environmental changes on their livelihoods. 

I am encouraged by the visible shift in Africa, where proactive steps are being taken to redefine narratives and challenge stereotypes. From my own experience, I see a growing inclination towards self-sufficiency, with a departure from the traditional reliance on aid. This paradigm shift signals a sense of empowerment and autonomy among communities. As a professional, I share a commitment to effecting positive change by actively shaping environmental and social factors affecting development through working with both international actors and community-based organizations. 

About the author

Mercy Awazi Abusta

Mercy Awazi Abutsa, from Nigeria in West Africa, is pursuing a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Global Development, where she is learning how to apply her knowledge and skills to simplify, democratize, and localize strategies for inclusive climate policy design and implementation in low-income countries. Her research aims to investigate how regional factors and climate framings influence people's response to adaptation projects in Northern Nigeria. She is an Einaudi Director’s Fellow with the Institute of African Development, part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

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