Getting climate resilience right: the case for backing smallholder organisations full transcript
Host [00:00:01]: You are listening to Make Change Happen, the podcast from IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development. In today’s episode, we’ll be exploring how forest and farm producer cooperatives and organisations are rising to the challenges of climate change and food security, and unpicking the barriers that they face.
Liz Carlile [00:00:27] Hello. We’re here again exploring how to make change happen. I’m your host, Liz Carlile, and I’m really delighted to welcome you to our discussion today on how forest and farmer producer cooperatives are rising to the challenge of climate change and food security. We will also look at some of the challenges and barriers they face.
With me today are Duncan Macqueen, Elizabeth Nsimadala and Clare Shakya. And they are people who are working closely with forest and farm producers and with the practical realities of getting climate finance into the hands of those dealing with day-to-day realities of climate change.
So, can I invite you all to introduce yourselves? Elizabeth, can you say a little bit about what you do?
Elizabeth Nsimadala [00:01:17] Thank you very much, Liz, and greetings to colleagues and listeners. It’s a great honour and pleasure for me to take part in today’s podcast.
My name is Elizabeth Nsimadala, I’m a Ugandan young smallholder farmer and also an agri-preneur, currently the president of the Pan-Africa Farmers Organization and also the Eastern African Farmers Federation.
So PAFO as a continental platform would represent voices of over 80 million smallholder farmers that are members of over 80 national farmers’ organisations from 50 countries of Africa that are members of our five regional farmers’ organisations.
So I really look forward to sharing with you on how together we can make change happen. Thank you and over to you, Liz.
Liz Carlile [00:02:11] Thank you, Elizabeth. Clare?
Clare Shakya [00:02:14] Hi, good morning. My name is Clare Shakya, I’m the director of the Climate Change group at IIED, and one of the things that we’re really interested in is understanding why finance isn’t reaching the sorts of organisations that Elizabeth is working with. And try to understand actually how to begin to fix the system.
Liz Carlile [00:02:33] That’s great, thank you. And you, Duncan?
Duncan Macqueen [00:02:35] Yes, hello, I’m Duncan Macqueen and I’m head of the forests and prosperity work programme at IIED. And as that name suggests, we’re very much interested in treating forest ecosystems as a whole, with both the forest and the people together, and seeing how we can make things work better for both forests and people.
Liz Carlile [00:02:58] Thank you Duncan. I think that takes us very nicely into what we’re talking about today.
Liz Carlile [00:03:07] This is the super-year of climate and nature and we’re really thinking about how all these communities are facing the realities and what it means for us going forward.
António Guterres said of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report that it was a code red for humanity. This is very serious times and we need to take serious action. But we know that many people are actually out there on the frontline doing just that in various ways. So it’ll be good to share some thinking on that.
I think, Duncan, could you kick us off by saying actually what is a forest farm producer organisation? Or how can our listeners understand who they are and where they are?
Duncan Macqueen [00:03:53] Yes, thanks, Liz. What we have in the rural areas of the world are people living… they mostly make their living from forestry or farming. There are probably 1.5 billion people living on 1-10 hectare smallholders. So it’s a very big number.
And they are in often remote areas and they often - the only way to get help is to work together. And so they establish groups of different forms – sometimes to protect their rights, if they want to claim a territory like Indigenous Peoples, and sometimes to work together to generate income in farmers’ cooperatives and so on.
And the interesting thing about these organisations – and I’m putting the emphasis on the organisation – is that it’s really organisation that helps them unlock their potential in places where nobody else is helping them. So local groups maybe work together to sell something in a bigger volume to get a better price from a buyer. But you can also form regional groups that maybe work together to establish a processing facility, maybe for sawing timber or for aggregating and storing coffee or something like that. And those regional groups often provide services like finance or technical support to the local groups.
And then at national level you can have these unions or federations that join up the voices of many farmers and forest workers to speak with government powerfully. And it’s those levels of organisation that really enable us to channel voices and needs upwards. And also could act as a conduit, a flow through which the international community helps all of those people on the ground, because all of the communication channels are in place.
Liz Carlile [00:06:04] Thank you. And before we go to Elizabeth, who I think will tell us a lot more about how effective that organisation of sort of the cooperatives is, I think one of the things you said to me the other day which really struck home to me was that this really significant body of people is actually the place where the poorer members of society get access to their food. You know, this kind of group of people producing all the things they produce is a vital source for many people in the world who can’t afford, I suppose, the more expensive food sources.
Duncan Macqueen [00:06:42] Yeah, absolutely right.
Liz Carlile [00:06:42] Is that…? Yeah.
Duncan Macqueen [00:06:45] I mean, that’s right. I mean there are 483 million farms there or thereabouts [laughs] in the world, and 98% of them are family farms. And for poorer people they’re not getting their money from fancy supermarkets and, you know, retail outlets and ordering online. They’re getting their food from farmers’ markets that are supplied by these smallholder farms. So it’s a… if we’re interested in, you know, food security for the poor, then we have to be working with these sort of smallholder farmer organisations not your big multinationals.
Liz Carlile [00:07:22] And this is an important point too for, for the first UN food summit that’ll be coming up in September of course. This whole angle is another side to this argument.
Duncan Macqueen [00:07:31] Well that’s right, and they’re often dismissed because individual smallholders are very small scale. We put out a report that’s called Small But Many is Big [laughs].
Liz Carlile [00:07:45] Yeah.
Duncan Macqueen [00:07:46] And essentially if you tot up the annual value from all these smallholder farmers, an estimate from IUCN said it was 1.3 trillion US dollars. And that’s much, much bigger than any of the large-scale corporates.
Liz Carlile [00:08:04] So, Elizabeth, perhaps we can move to you. Can you tell us a little bit more about the FPPOs in Africa? You know, you gave us some lovely figures at the beginning about the organisation and the structure. Can you tell us how those organisations are affected by climate change, or the challenges of today?
Elizabeth Nsimadala [00:08:27] Yeah, thank you so much, Liz.
Before I can even speak about the FFPOs, I think just picking it up from where Duncan’s talked is just to emphasise that speaking about the food systems – especially the summit that is coming up in September – we really need to put smallholder farmers at the centre of the food systems. Because you cannot talk about food minus talking about smallholder farmers who are the producers of this food.
So as Duncan mentioned, I think for us we believe in the saying that united we stand and divided we fall. So the stronger we are together, the more chances and opportunities, you know, to be listened, to form a stronger constituency, and the more we are able to reach our membership.
Because, as we’ve mentioned, most of our African population and farming systems are smallholding. So if you are to reach out to every individual farmer it is very much challenging. And that’s why we join forces together, we aggregate ourselves so that we can have one common voice, we can even maximise in terms of offering of services that are in a well-coordinated manner.
So we use the farmer associations and the cooperative concept where we aggregate at different levels – as has already been mentioned by Duncan – from a national level, I’ve mentioned over 80 national farmers’ organisations that are our members. At regional level we have the regional farmers’ associations now who deal with the regional economic communities. And also at continental level now we have the PAFO platform which connects well with the African Union, you know, to bring up all the issues that are coming up from the grassroots up to that level.
So, back to that issue of climate change as forest and farmer producer cooperatives and farmers. Of course before we even talk about climate change, we first of all need to appreciate the importance of the forests. Because they are really very key for life, most of us depend on them for life in many ways – for food, there is also employment and incomes, of course, it’s across the value chain. And also we all know that they’re a source of rainfall formation, they are home for so many animals and bugs, and also it’s also for oxygen as we all know.
But again, as we speak, these have all been threatened by climate change. Of late we’ve seen the predominance of extreme shocks, that is in terms of both the wet shocks and also the dry shocks. In terms of the wet shocks, you know, the recent cyclones in Africa. Most of the African parts, West Africa and so on, have all been badly hit by the dry spell. We’ve seen the recent increase in the occurrence of pests and diseases like the fall armyworm, the desert locusts, and also all these have led to, you know, a change in the cropping cycle. Of course, which makes it again very difficult for farmers to use their traditional knowledge in terms of, you know, planning for the cropping cycles. So again, when it comes to… because of these changes, there is always a lack of information in terms of weather information which can be offered to farmers.
So the kind of work that we are doing, of course, as farmers’ organisations, like I mentioned, we need to… we are always a voice of farmers’ organisations at different levels. And we are leading in climate change farmer-led agenda to global level, dubbed the climate makers where, as farmers’ organisations, we are taking the lead in terms of profiling the success stories on the ground.
Liz Carlile [00:12:55] That’s great to hear, Elizabeth. And I guess it would be wonderful for our listeners, I mean, as a smallholder yourself or sort of the number of smallholders you must know, do you have a very brief example of how climate resilience by a smallholder organisation has really sort of - specific example has really - can show people what the difference can be?
Elizabeth Nsimadala [00:13:21] So we cannot keep lamenting because of climate change. As farmers we believe in finding solutions for ourselves because we believe we are the solutions to most of the challenges that we face.
And part of our resilience strategy has been on how we can share information on what is happening across, but also how we can adapt to some of these changes that are happening. Of course, first we would want to see an enabling policy environment.
Especially you cannot discuss about climate change without discussing land. So usually we look before enabling a policy environment in terms of the land rights, you know, we have different land tenure systems. Also the pressure on land is becoming so high due to a number of investors, but also the rural-urban migration, which really creates a lot of pressure on land.
But also the number of activities that we’ve been able to train our farmers to put in place, especially on on-farm activities in terms of the good agronomic practices to be able to be more climate resilient. We’ve also tried to make sure that, you know, they are able to adapt to, and be able to access, some of the disease and drought tolerant varieties.
And also, again, other activities across the value chain on the market side, making sure that we bring on board different innovations. And also technologies and trying to lobby for infrastructure to share relevant information.
Liz Carlile [00:15:10] As a smallholder yourself, you must be dealing with climate change all the time. Can you tell them a few of the things you have to think about or do?
Elizabeth Nsimadala [00:15:20] Thank you. Maybe I can start by sharing with our listeners one of the experiences that I had to deal with last year, the second season of last year. Because here in Uganda we have two seasons, and the second season usually starts around 15th of August, that’s when we usually do the planting. And my field is on a slope. So because we expect to plant around 15th, and then of course for the first and second weeks, but being on a slope then you have to dig contours across the fields to be able, you know, to tap the running waters.
So it’s all happened, but we received heavy rains that very first week and all my crops were washed away. So, of course, which was a very big loss for me as a smallholder farmer. And again, not only me but also other smallholder farmers who are coming from the same region – the Western region of the country – and not only that, but the entire Eastern Africa regions. Because usually you have almost the same climate.
And, you know, such kind of rains also usually cut off some areas where you have one farm in one place and another farm in another place. And you know the infrastructure in the rural areas, we usually have poor feeder roads so usually when we receive such kind of heavy rainfalls, then some parts are usually cut off and makes it inaccessible for farmers.
So, having said that, of course now that calls for again putting in place resilient mechanisms, like I said. And making sure that you have contours dug along the fields, making sure that you have, you know, plants, cover crops, inter-planting. And also making sure that you have other plants, you know, like animal feeds planted along outside the fields. We usually use like coriander, planting it, you know, at the boundaries of the fields and we can as well use that as animal feeds.
Liz Carlile [00:17:36] That’s really helpful. I think you’ve really helped to give us a very graphic description of how you have to be thinking and practically on it all the time to keep climate change at bay.
Liz Carlile [00:17:53] So Duncan, I know that you’ve been doing recent research and it’s sort of talked or I guess shown your evidence a lot about the kind of organised responses that Elizabeth has just been describing. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Duncan Macqueen [00:18:07] Yeah, certainly. What we are doing at the Forest and Farm Facility – which is this multi-donor facility that directly supports small farmer organisation and forest organisations – we try and co-produce knowledge that helps them. And so we start with surveys of these groups to see what their knowledge needs are.
When we did a survey of 41 different forest and farm organisations in six countries, the number one request for information and new knowledge was in the area of climate resilience, options for climate resilience, how to diversify their farming so as not to get hit by pests and diseases and so on. And that really made us think we had to give this climate resilience area a bit more priority than we were doing.
So we’ve been looking at the international literature, and we also commissioned 10 forest and farm groups to write case studies of what they were doing to become more climate resilient. And through all of that work it’s become clear that there are about 30 different things you can practically do to make yourselves more resilient in the face of climate change.
And these are things, some things to do with social organisation. So, you can expand your membership to work together, you can represent your views with government to get fairer tenure and so on. So some of those are sort of social organisation things.
Some of the options are ecological things, like what would you plant on your farm? You can plant more climate-hardy crops, or you can use trees to fix nitrogen, you can control erosion, those sorts of things to do with ecology.
And then there are things you can do to become more resilient to climate change economically through your businesses. You can become less dependent on a single value chain and diversify what you sell to make you more resilient.
And finally there are things you can do in the area of technology and physical infrastructure, like, you know, putting in place irrigation, or terracing, or boundaries to protect your property from fire. Those sorts of things.
So they’re very practical things that forest and farm producers are doing. And when we looked at the 10 case studies from around the world, we found that the farmer organisations were doing at least half of the 30 possible options. And I think what that means is that farmer organisations have to be climate resilient in order to survive. They have no option. And they’re really rather good at putting in place the things they need to be more resilient.
And if there’s one thing I learned from this whole body of research is that farmer organisations are excellent at climate resilience. And what they need [laughs] is more support from us to be able to finance some of the things they’d like to put in place but can’t.
Liz Carlile [00:21:54] And that makes complete sense. People in those situations are working with their daily realities, they know what they need, it’s just getting access to resources that can help them do that.
Duncan Macqueen [00:22:05] Totally. And, I mean, I could give you many practical examples.
So, NOVI VA is a little woman’s cassava-growing cooperative in Togo. And they’re faced by more variable rainfall and drought. And so what they’ve done is they’ve introduced a nitrogen-fixing tree – leucaena leucocephala – into their fields. And they lop the leaves of the tree, because it provides a nitrogen-rich kind of manure, effectively for the plants. Then they’ve gone to the local extension agency and managed to get more drought-resistant cassava varieties.
But they haven’t just limited it to the ecological on farm staff, they’ve packaged their cassava products into three or four different things – made new labels, tried to find new markets. They’ve worked with the Centre for the Producers of Cereal (CPC) to get technical and business support. And then they joined the national farmers’ union, the Coordination of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organisations (CTOP) to kind of represent them in government.
So it’s a small woman’s group but it’s doing really sophisticated things to become more resilient to climate change.
Liz Carlile [00:23:31] I’m going to take us to Clare now because I know Clare, in your work, trying to think around how to get finance to the local level for people who are doing really considerable achievements in local adaptation, you must have both examples and ideas around how we have to get that finance working.
Clare Shakya [00:23:52] Absolutely, Liz. The story that Duncan just told is one that we’ve heard again and again. You really can’t define how best to adapt to climate impacts at a meta level, at a high level, at the national level or international level. It’s so locally specific. And local farmers do know what they need. And when they are organised they can really influence the processes around them.
But, when we’re trying to get resources to them, what we’re finding is there’s incredibly high transaction costs, particularly for climate finance. First of all, you have to show the additionality – that this is because of climate impacts and not because of, you know, usual development processes – that’s one of the requirements in getting climate finance.
But secondly, because there’s very high expectations of your financial management skills and so on, it tends to be highly intermediated. So the donor gives it to a partner who gives it to another partner who then has a small grant scheme that you have to apply to. Your ability to influence what the donor’s understanding of what your need is, is very limited because of the… it’s that number of people that are passing messages to the donor means that you don’t have a direct voice.
The finance coming with climate finance is very short term. And, as Duncan and Elizabeth has alluded to, it’s often coming as a sort of externally driven solution – somebody else’s idea of what is needed.
So when about five years ago we looked at how much climate finance was actually intended to reach the local level, we found it was about 10%, one in 10 dollars is intended to actually support people on the ground, responding to climate impacts.
And so more recently we thought, ‘OK, well, for adaptation that must be better because adaptation, you need this very local, specific understanding’. So we looked at adaptation funding only and we just looked at the funding going to the very poorest countries, the least developed countries. And what we found was that it’s just 3% of what they – the LDCs themselves – have estimated their needs were five years ago. So the funding that’s arriving now is very much less than what the countries themselves estimate that they needed, even some years ago before the current level of climate impacts that we’re now seeing.
But, of this amount, only just under half had any evidence of an intention for local actors to be engaged in defining how that funding gets used. And that’s not putting it in the hands of local people, that’s just any level of engagement at all.
We also found that, you know, only 3% was considering gender and the structural inequalities in society, 3% was considering people with disabilities, 2% was thinking about Indigenous Peoples. I mean, the equality of this funding is really, really poor if you consider what these forest and farmer producer organisations are actually looking for.
So to fix this we do need to go beyond projects. We need to reduce that intermediation. And given the aggregation that Duncan and Elizabeth were talking about earlier, given that we already have these organised communities that have organised themselves around their production of value, those provide a natural platform where finance could be transferred to those institutions and they then pass it on to their local partners on a regular basis.
And if you start to provide regular budgets, then local communities – those organised communities – have an opportunity to start to invest long-term into what they’re going to need. They know what they need today, but if they know they’re going to carry on getting that budget they can start thinking about what their children might need in the future as well.
So, this shift from projects to institutional processes, these delivery mechanisms that get the funding and resources down to the local level, that’s what we need to see to fix this challenge.
Liz Carlile [00:27:53] That’s great, Clare. Elizabeth, does that resonate with you?
Elizabeth Nsimadala [00:27:58] Yeah, sure, I totally agree and that really resonates with what we’re doing as producer organisations. And picking it from both Duncan and Clare, I can say that resilience for us is looked at at different levels, where at policy and representation level we try and make sure that farmers have a common voice, we come up with our farmer-led approaches that we can really scale up.
And, as we speak now, we have a global farmer-led climate resilience agenda or campaign, I don't know which right word to use [laughs], but it’s a farmer-led process where we are collecting stories from the field in terms of how climate change is affecting the farmers, but also in terms of solutions that farmers are putting in place to be more resilient.
So we also use this sort of representation to make sure that farmers’ voices are represented at different meetings, like at the coop, but also engaging with the different stakeholders in terms of information-sharing among the producer organisations in terms of joint resource mobilisation, in terms of organising peer-to-peer exchanges, to be able to help them, you know, to learn from each other and be able to share different information.
So, other resilience is also done on-farm, where we look at the activities that happen on the farm and how we can support our farmers to be able to adapt to climate change. I think Duncan presented on this, where we support our farmers with good agricultural practices. We provide them relevant information in terms of being climate-smart, and also how they can be more adaptive to the shocks that we’ve mentioned about both the dry and the wet shocks, but also the pests and the diseases.
Then off-farm activities, also we look at the entire value chain, how do we make sure our farmers become more innovative. For example, in terms of access to markets, how do we make sure that, you know, let’s say they do in-marketing where they are facing a number of challenges in terms of access to market due to issues to do with climate change, how do they bring in technologies? How do you create a favourable environment but also a lobby for infrastructure for our farmers to be more resilient?
But what we’ve learnt from all this is that most of the farmers’ efforts that are bringing on board in terms of trying to be more resilient, is it’s really not very much - I can say there is limited appreciation of those efforts. I can say our contribution is not valued and most often we are branded as a problem to the environment. And yet, as farmers we put in a lot in terms of making sure that we preserve the environment, we protect it for our future generations. And we’ve also had challenges in terms of access to different services as producer organisations – and by services we mean, let’s say, access to insurance, access to financing. I think as has already been mentioned by Clare, when you look at the support that is on board for climate resilience, it is mostly accessed by big corporations. And for smallholder farmers they end up really not having access to such kind of, you know, financing.
So it really makes it very difficult, even where farmers want to put in place resilient mechanisms, they have such limitations to do with financing. And we have, again, some working models of self-generating resources in our communities – these are financial cooperatives, the saving on credit associations, where they mobilise their internal resources and lend among themselves that are pretty working well.
So I believe this can also be used as channels where such kind of funding maybe can be accessed, it would be an easier and closer route to reach out to the producer organisations.
Liz Carlile [00:32:45] Thank you, Elizabeth. I think we really understand, don’t we, from what we’ve talked about this morning, that this group of farm and forest producers and other smallholders, I guess, are a hugely proactive, resourceful, skilful and kind of ‘on it’ group of people. But what they need is the certainty that they can find the kind of funding that they need, the kind of financial resource that they need to keep things moving, and sustainable, and to scale where they need to.
Liz Carlile [00:33:21] We need to draw to a close now. And I do like to finish the programme with a sort of ‘what change do you want to see immediately?’. Apart from the obvious ones that we’ve been talking about, the big ones, what do you think the small change, or a change, might be right now that could start to get this journey to better finance on the way?
I'm going to start with Clare, if I might?
Clare Shakya [00:33:49] A single change, Liz, that’s a tough one. I suppose, I mean, the transparency of climate finance is shockingly poor.
Donors reported over the last few years about $35 billion going to adaptation in the least developed countries, the poorest countries, specifically. When we looked at it, we could only verify six billion of that actually had adaptation as a primary objective.
Some donors don’t provide any detail, often project names don’t align with their own transparency websites, so you can't look at the international database and understand what is actually going on by looking at their websites because they don’t use the same names.
But this discrepancy between the reported finance and what we could verify is really enabled by the lack of any definition of climate finance. We need to agree what its purpose is and then that would provide us with a functional definition, and then we could have third-party verification to understand what funding is supporting what, and what quality of that funding looks like.
So we’ve got too much of the funding that’s going to the big corporates that reckon that they can solve small farm and forest-dwellers’ problems with a quick-fix solution. We need much more reaching those forest and farm producers organisations themselves, those organised communities, local governments, who actually understand in their context what they most need to prioritise. And even if it’s not large amounts, but if that funding comes regularly, it’ll have a big impact.
So that transparency, that definition of what climate finance is meant to be doing, and then the transparency to actually track it, I think is the single thing that I would ask for.
Liz Carlile [00:35:29] That’s really interesting, thank you.
Elizabeth, what’s the kind of big change you want to see happen? You’ve told us about the high-level, and there is a lot to do there, but what would a change right now, a particular change right now, that would really help move things along?
Elizabeth Nsimadala [00:35:49] I think, like was already mentioned by Clare, I think transparency in climate finance is very critical. And in addition to that we really need to see self-accountability for our actions and contribution to climate change – we need to hold each other accountable.
But as we also hold each other accountable, we need to see that there is this, you know, rebalancing of the benefits and losses that we usually have across the value chains. So it’s not only the farmers who feel the losses, but where that benefits then farmers should also benefit from those benefits.
We need to value the contribution of each and everyone in terms of monetary terms, as farmers when we put in a lot to make sure that we become more resilient, we preserve the environment. What comes back to us? That is why we are calling for equal partnerships, you know, being respected as also partners in making sure that we become more climate-resilient.
Liz Carlile [00:37:03] Thank you. So, we’ve got transparency, we’ve got accountability, we’ve got better benefit sharing, and we’ve got more equal partnerships.
Duncan, what would be your change now that you would be advocating?
Duncan Macqueen [00:37:16] Thanks, Liz. I think my first emphasis would be on that word ‘now’, the immediacy of what change needs to happen.
And that’s because by 2050, if we do nothing, we’re expecting to see 250,000 additional deaths from heat and related mortality, an additional 529,000 deaths from food shortages, and 720 million people pushed into extreme poverty. So we can’t ignore climate resilience.
My main change would be that at the moment the main climate funds are channelling their money through accredited agencies. And the accreditation processes are choosing certain types of organisation that are deemed ‘fit’ to channel funding, and they don’t currently involve the farmer organisations.
And I would turn that around and say, ‘unless your accreditation process is directly selecting and channelling funds through farmer organisations, then you're missing the people who can actually do something about climate resilience’. So that would be my main change.
Liz Carlile [00:38:31] That’s brilliant, that’s very clear from all of you.
It’s clear that there are changes that could be made, that this is possible. And I know that IIED and our partners and colleagues will be working to share those messages in the key moments and events during this ‘super-year’.
So, thank you again to my guests today, thank you very much for coming and sharing your experience and ideas.
I hope you, our listeners, will agree that we’ve had a lot to think about. And during this very busy time in the super-year when there will be lots of interest in these issues, please do tell friends, colleagues and anyone you think who’s working on this, about this podcast.
And, of course, if you want more in-depth detail, the IIED website will provide lots of links to more publications and blogs to explore.
Host [00:39:25] And you can find out more about today’s podcast, our guests and their work at www.IIED.org/podcast where you can also listen to more episodes.
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