Building long-term resilience to climate change for food and income security

The R4 Rural Resilience Initiative (R4) is a comprehensive risk management approach to help communities be more resilient to climate variability and shocks. Currently active in Senegal and Ethiopia, WFP is also piloting the initiative in Malawi and Zambia. 

More than 2.3 billion people live with less than USD$1.25 a day and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Vulnerability to climate-related shocks is a constant threat to their food security and wellbeing. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of these shocks, the challenges faced by food insecure farmers also increase. WFP is developing innovative tools and strategies to reduce and mitigate risks  to overcome hunger, achieve food security and enhance resilience.

About R4

WFP and Oxfam America (OA) launched the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative (R4) in 2011 to enable vulnerable rural households to increase their food and income security in the face of increasing climate risks. R4 builds on the initial success of the Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation (HARITA) initiative, pioneered in Ethiopia by Oxfam America, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and Swiss Re.

R4 currently reaches over 40,000 farmers (about 200,000 people) in Ethiopia, Senegal, Malawi and Zambia through a combination of four risk management strategies: improved resource management through asset creation (risk reduction), insurance (risk transfer), livelihoods diversification and microcredit (prudent risk taking) and savings (risk reserves). In 2016, as a consequence of the El Nino phenomena, about $450,000 in payouts were distributed through the initiative in Ethiopia, Senegal and Malawi.


Impact to date: The initiative is helping improve farmer’s resilience

The first major impact evaluation of R4/HARITA in Ethiopia shows that  insured farmers save more than twice than those without any insurance,  and they invest more in seeds, fertilizer and productive assets, such as plough oxen. Farmers in one cluster of villages tripled their grain reserves compared with uninsured farmers. Women, who often head the poorest households, achieved the largest gains in productivity, through investing in labour and improved tools for planting.

In Senegal, a recent impact evaluation highlighted that despite two consecutive bad harvests, R4 farmers were able to maintain their food security level compared to farmers living in the same area and exposed to the same shocks. Women claimed that they felt empowered - in addition to having increased access to land, seeds and water for irrigation and drinking, they benefit from training in numeracy, literacy and business. Having more food and water available also means that they no longer have to travel far from home to fetch water, with consequent gains in terms of time to dedicate to their children or small business.

What’s innovative about R4

R4 has broken new ground in the field of rural risk management by enabling the poorest farmers to pay for crop insurance with their own labour. Thanks to R4’s comprehensive risk management scheme, communities are stronger in the face of disasters. They are able to invest in new seeds and fertilizer to guarantee food is on the table all year long. Protected by insurance, families facing a drought or other shock, no longer find themselves forced into desperate measures, such as selling their farm animals or taking their children out of school. Here is how it works: 

  • Farmers can access weather index insurance by paying with their labour through Insurance-for-Assets (IFA) schemes. When a drought hits, compensation for weather-related losses prevents farmers from selling productive assets and stimulates faster recovery.
  • IFA schemes are built into either existing social safety nets, disaster risk reduction schemes, or WFP’s Food Assistance for Assets programme. Assets built through risk reduction activities promote resilience by steadily decreasing vulnerability to disaster risks over time.
  • By protecting farmers’ investments in case of a bad season, R4 enables households to invest in riskier but more remunerative enterprises, as well as in seeds, fertilizers and new technologies to increase their agricultural productivity.
  • Participants establish small-scale savings, which are used to build ‘risk reserves’. In Senegal the initiative leverages on OA’s Savings for Change (SfC) programme. Savings help build a stronger financial base for investing – but also act as a buffer against short-term needs and idiosyncratic shocks, such as illness and death.
  • To ensure long-term sustainability, R4 contributes to the creation of rural financial markets, by building the capacity of farmers, local insurance companies, and micro-finance institutions and gradually transitioning farmers to pay for insurance in cash.