Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty



A new strategy will ensure that climate change – alongside other risks, opportunities and themes – is systematically integrated into core programmes, policies and activities

Over the centuries, human societies have developed the capacity to adapt farming practices to environmental change and climate variability. These adaptations include practicing shifting cultivation, adopting new crop varieties and modifying grazing patterns. But today the speed and intensity of climate change are outpacing the speed of those autonomous actions and threaten the ability of poor smallholders and rural societies to cope.

For most of the one billion extremely poor and hungry people who live in the rural areas of developing countries, agriculture is the main income source. These people are already vulnerable, and climate change will in most cases increase this vulnerability. While trying to cope with the effects of a warmer climate, agriculture is simultaneously facing two other challenges: it must almost double food production in developing countries by 2050 to meet population increases and dietary changes, and it must be central to efforts in greenhouse gas reduction.

Many smallholders with whom IFAD works are already reporting impacts on the key ecosystems and biodiversity that sustain agricultural production, rural infrastructure, market opportunities and rural livelihoods.

“This is why we say that agriculture is where climate change, food security and poverty reduction intersect,” says Elwyn Grainger-Jones, IFAD’s Director, Environment and Climate Change Division. “And it is why we developed a new and ambitious strategy to integrate climate change in IFAD. We want to ensure that, as an agricultural development organization, we maximize our impact on rural poverty and food security in a changing climate.”

The new strategy supports innovative approaches that will help smallholder producers build their resilience to climate change and take advantage of available mitigation incentives and funding. It also creates a platform for more coherent global dialogue on climate change, rural development, agriculture and food security.

New risks, new opportunities

For 30 years, IFAD has worked to help poor rural people manage their natural resources more sustainably, increase their agricultural productivity and reduce their vulnerability to climatic shocks (see box).

“Environmental threats such as climate change are inseparable from IFAD’s mission,” says IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze. “Agriculture can be part of the solution. There are many new sustainable agricultural practices that can be scaled up. For example, conservation agriculture can increase yields, reverse environmental degradation and emissions growth, build resilience and reduce poverty. Farming has too often been pursued as an extractive rather than renewable process – this is simply not sustainable.”

IFAD’s programmes will continue to reflect the complex reality of poor smallholder businesses, where issues are not contained neatly in boxes labelled according to global issues. And IFAD will continue to target its investments at the poorer and often most climate-change-affected people – whose livelihoods depend largely on agriculture and natural resources – particularly women as producers, and indigenous peoples as stewards of natural resources.

“IFAD’s new Climate Change strategy will go even further by ensuring that we think about the effects of climate change in everything we do,” says Nwanze. “We’re working towards a more ‘climate-smart’ IFAD, where climate change is systematically integrated into core programmes, policies and activities. The strategy includes a detailed results and implementation plan. While additional staff resources are being made available to make this happen, responsibility for its delivery is shared across the organization.”

Supporting rural people in adapting to harsh climatic conditions has been at the centre of many IFAD-supported projects. For example:

  • In Mongolia, the Livestock Sector Adaptation Project, to be financed through the GEF-managed Special Climate Change Fund, aims to increase the resilience of the Mongolian livestock system to changing climatic conditions by strengthening natural resource management, ‘climate-proofing’ pasture water supply, and building the capacity of herders' groups to address climate change.
  • In Kenya, the Mount Kenya East Pilot Project for Natural Resource Management seeks to halt the environmental degradation, flooding and drought resulting from deforestation and inappropriate agricultural practices in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.
  • In Bangladesh, the Special Assistance Project for Cyclone-Affected Rural Households supported poor rural households hit by the 1991 cyclone in protecting their dwellings against floods, and established 10 cyclone shelter centres.
  • The Western Sudan Resources Management Programme in the Sudan and the Pastoral Community Development Project in Ethiopia both established early warning systems that enable rural populations to adjust their livelihoods to the expected effects of drought.
  • The Kidal Integrated Rural Development Programme in Mali seeks to establish an environmental monitoring system for risks such as drought, locusts and livestock diseases, and foresees measures to mitigate their impacts.
  • In China, where farmers are exposed to regular crop failures induced by erratic weather patterns, IFAD has co-funded an initiative to develop and implement an index-based weather insurance system.

Many IFAD projects are already addressing mitigation indirectly through reforestation and improvement of land use and land management practices. Examples include:

  • Implementation of 4,500 hectares of agroforestry systems in Rwanda, increasing yields and reducing erosion.
  • Assisted tree regeneration in the Niger, covering about 100,000 hectares and contributing to restoring soil fertility and sequestering carbon.
  • Two IFAD-supported projects in China to promote renewable energy. The West Guangxi Poverty-Alleviation Project is helping promote household biomass units, transforming human waste and animal dung into biogas for lighting and cooking in rural areas. By 2006, almost 30,000 households had benefited from biogas tanks, saving 7,500 hectares of forest each year. The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Modular Rural Development Programme is working to help poor rural people install solar systems to meet their power needs.
  • Two grants to the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) to develop and pilot mechanisms for rewarding environmental services in Asia and Africa, through, respectively, the Programme for Developing Mechanisms to Reward the Upland Poor of Asia for the Environment Services They Provide and the Programme for Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa (PRESA).
  • The installation of small-scale biogas digesters and provision of 11,500 units of energy-saving stoves in Eritrea.