Agricultural research helps farmers in Vietnam grow more rice and counteract the impacts of climate change on food security. How can innovations help step up efforts in the food security, nutrition and agricultural sector? Photo by: Philippe Berry / IFPRI / CC BY-NC-ND

Mission Innovation, announced by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Paris climate change conference, put innovation firmly in the spotlight. Finding innovative ways to tackle climate change, however, is not news for the three Rome-based United Nations agencies.

More than 2.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. And this makes them extremely reliant on environmental conditions, and therefore vulnerable to climate change. Stepping up efforts in the food security, nutrition and agricultural sector has thus become imperative.

Figures from the World Food Program reflect the extent of the problem. In the past 10 years, WFP has worked in more than 20 countries with five emergency or recovery operations addressing climate disasters, according to Richard Choularton, chief of WFP’s Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Programs Unit.

Devex sat down with three climate experts from the Rome-based agencies and learned three key ways they are using climate finance innovatively.


The 31 major proposals emerging from consultation on the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit include a major focus on securing adequate and predictable finance for people facing crises. With newly developed early warning systems, it is now possible to predict natural disasters.

Choularton adds that there is need for predictable financing from international institutions, not just at the government level. With their Food Security Climate Resilience Facility, WFP is pioneering in making climate responses proactive rather than reactive.

FoodSECuRE is a programmatic and financial tool that links climate and hazard forecasting with flexible, multi-year funding. This provides the opportunity for governments to unlock funding for responses before a disaster occurs.

The tool has three main functions. First, it will trigger finance to support community action before a climate disaster occurs, based on forecast. Secondly, it will complement immediate response financing by accessing insurance mechanisms for rapid response, linking with the private sector to ensure responses are more predictable. Finally — although the funding for this is not yet secured — Choularton said it aims to provide multi-year funding for resilience in recovery to get away from the unpredictable volatile funding.

WFP has been working on the tool for a few years, with positive responses showing that the approach can reduce the costs of emergency action by 50 percent.

Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture

As recently noted by Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in light of the COP21, investing in adaptation is of primary importance.

Through its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Program, the International Fund for Agricultural Development has been doing just this. Active since 2012, it is the largest adaption platform for smallholder farmers, with around $366 million from 10 bilateral donors integrated into IFAD’s investment programs.

Gernot Laganda, climate change adaptation specialist at IFAD, who has been coordinating ASAP, stressed that smallholder farmers are agents of change who grow the food for up to 80 percent of the people in developing countries and are closest to managing the ecosystems we all depend on. “They should be seen as more than victims of climate change,” he added.

“Climate change, predominantly perceived as a threat, forces us to think of alternatives that diversify income and that make people more resilient against other sudden changes such as market price fluctuations, or food crisis.”

— Gernot Laganda, climate change adaptation specialist at IFAD

ASAP is implemented through a context-based approach that takes into consideration political, social and economic realities. Methods vary from intercropping, to finding new adaption technologies to diversifying income of smallholder farmers. Laganda stresses the importance of understanding the people they are working with and their local dynamics, and working with the farmers to adopt the necessary methods.

Additionally, through an integrated approach ASAP is reframing IFAD’s climate mainstreaming and building a strong evidence base to create policy support for future investments and partnerships. An example is the knowledge partnership between IFAD and CGIAR on climate change, agriculture and food security.

Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture is an emerging trend when it comes to agriculture, nutrition and food security. CSA is an approach to developing the technical, policy and investment conditions to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under climate change.

It ranges from new technologies, to diversifying agricultural habits, to finding ad hoc solutions for individual farmers.

Martin Frick, director of the climate, energy and tenure division of the Food and Agriculture Organization, mentioned FAO’s role in setting up the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, launched in 2014 at the U.N. Climate Summit. Counting some 107 members, the GACSA is a voluntary alliance of partners dedicated to addressing challenges facing agriculture and food security under a changing climate.

Frick believes that addressing climate change at the root means working with agriculture and enabling smallholder farmers to provide food security. CSA enables professionals to do this. For example, in Tanzania FAO has already trained about 2,500 farmers on climate-smart adaptation methods.

The urgency and immediacy of the climate problem has pushed professionals to doubt their methods and push their boundaries. There remains, however, a disconnect between the level of rhetoric on the need for action and the level of real investment in the ideas and efforts that show promise.

Post-COP21 negotiations, that is something that global development professionals — in Rome and beyond — will be seeking to address.

Planet Worth is a global conversation in partnership with Abt Associates, Chemonics, HELVETAS, Tetra Tech, the U.N. Development Program and Zurich, exploring leading solutions in the fight against climate change, while highlighting the champions of climate adaptation amid emerging global challenges. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #PlanetWorth.

About the author

  • Virginia Vigliar

    Virginia is a freelance journalist and editor based in Barcelona. She has worked in the development sector in Malawi and Kenya and Somalia before returning to Europe, where she gained experience in the United Kingdom, Norway and Spain. She is the managing editor of Words in the Bucket, an online platform discussing human rights, gender, development and environment issues.