Our climate is changing across every region and ecosystem in the world but for some, the impacts are catastrophic.

Across West Africa, the impacts of climate change are palpable; at the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean, the low-laying sandy coastal plains are more vulnerable to flooding and storms than ever. As you move in-land, drier weather means desertification, water scarcity and crop destruction are the threats. These climate extremes threaten to undo decades of development efforts and by 2050, up to 32 million people could be forced to move from the region in pursuit of land where they can make a living.

This is the reality for Odile Konkongou. She is from Benin, a Francophone country narrowly wedged between Togo and Nigeria. Extending from the Gulf of Guinea in the South to the Niger River at its northern border with Niger, Benin’s climate varies from tropical to semi-arid.

Like many people across Benin, Odile’s parents are farmers who, in recent years, have been struggling to cope with droughts. Originally from Atacota, in the North-West, her family were forced to migrate to Borgou, 130 miles South-East, in search of more fertile soil.

“At the beginning of the 2021 rainy season, my parents had to plant maize twice because the rains suddenly stopped mid-season. It ruined our crops and there is often not enough food to feed the community”. At just 25, Odile says her “biggest fear is more famine if we do nothing about climate change”.

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The crisis is on her doorstep and each day, she has to deal with the consequences. Apart from the immediate impact on her family, friends, and community as a whole, this produce shortage is threatening her future too: “I want to continue my education, but my family can’t afford the university fee and they need to get my brothers through school before putting my through university”.

In Odile’s community, if crop yields are low, climate related poverty means “girls schooling is sacrificed most of the time”. “Boys are prioritised because their education will help the family more. Girls are expected to stay home and get married”.

This is not uncommon in many West African countries, in Benin alone, a quarter of all children – most of them girls – don’t go to school.

“I have a cousin who I’m very close to and at thirteen years-old, she had to drop out of school because of change and the drop in agricultural yields”. The lack of time spent in school not only drives inequalities between men and women, but when girls are removed from school, they are less likely to learn about climate change and how to cope with its effects.

But Odile is ambitious; she has sought out a professional internship and is enthusiastic about her contributions to the new Girl-Led Action on Climate Change programme, set up by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.

“If I’m given the opportunity to get involved in projects about climate change, I’ll take them”, says Odile. The programme is designed to educate young women about various aspects of climate change from composting at home to learning about Benin’s natural environment at special camps.

Despite the inequality and challenges she faces, Odile refuses to feel helpless. Instead, by working with the Guides, she now wants to help teach others about how to face the emergency. “All the knowledge and passion I’ve learnt from the Guides; I’ve applied to life”.

Her climate consciousness has been informed by her own harsh experiences: “I found that I have a special motivation for fighting climate change”.

Odile feels the emergency must be tackled on a national and international level too: “decision makers who work with countries that are the biggest victims of climate change, they need to help farmers cope with changes to the agricultural calendar, avoid deforestation and protect important species”.

Action on these wider issues is not helped by Benin’s weak economy and its fragile agricultural sector. The country is falling behind in adapting to this rapid change, which is already increasing food and water insecurity.

These issues and their causes are at the heart of demands by climate justice campaigners. Despite having produced significantly fewer greenhouse gas emission than countries in the Global North, Benin is a country, like many others of the world’s Least Developed Countries - the LDCs, faces the biggest effects of the climate crisis. The current and expected effects are catastrophic for people of Benin, its economy, and its nature.

Odile rages against this injustice. “It’s not fair that developed countries are still producing a lot of carbon. They should be an example to the rest of the world but instead their actions are threatening us all”.

“We must develop strategies to stop emitting carbon.  The effects of climate change are loaded at my level, but it is a global issue, and we must work together to fight against it”.

Odile’s fate and that of her country are in the hands of leaders at COP26 but whilst she waits, she says she will not stop her fight:

“I am dreaming of one day playing a key role in the climate policies of my country. I know I have a talent in convincing people and raising my voice so for now, I’m motivating everyone I can”.


This ‘Dear Green Place’ story is in collaboration between Odile Konkongou and Judith Grace.

Odile is from Benin where she and her family are being directly impacted by the climate emergency. She is a proud member of the Girl Guiding Movement, through which she has become a strong advocate for climate justice and the rights of girls to an education. Judith is a Masters student at the University of Glasgow.