Rural Resilience Initiative: Making A Difference To Women’s Lives

“Sometimes there is rain, but it is not well distributed. We lack good quality seed, and termites eat our plants.” These are, in the words of Binta Ndao, a Senegalese farmer and mother of seven, some of the challenges faced by subsistence farmers in Eastern Senegal. An innovative resilience-building initiative implemented by WFP and Oxfam America is helping farmers like her break out of chronic food insecurity.

Since 2014, Binta has participated in the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative which is helping her better manage her natural resources and cope with more frequent droughts. The aim is to ensure food is on the table all year long, while also expanding her sources of income. 

The first assessment of the programme in Ethiopia shows that female participants are the ones obtaining the greatest gains in productivity. Now, two recent studies performed in Senegal further show how the programme is strengthening women’s ability to adapt to climate change. R4 helps them strengthen their families’ food security and livelihoods through a combination of risk management activities which reduce the impact of weather uncertainty, and the damage caused by disasters.

A woman tends to her vegetable garden
A woman tends to her vegetable garden in Senegal. (Photo:WFP/Fabio Bedini)

"Women are the central pillar of family and economic life in rural Senegal."
Women are the central pillar of family and economic life in rural Senegal. They take care of children and the home. They are also farmers and traders, contributing substantially to the agricultural and economic activities of the household despite their often limited access to resources such as land and equipment. 

Women Are More Vulnerable to Climate Shocks

Yet, women are often more vulnerable to climate shocks than men. Women lack recognition for the unpaid work they perform. They tend to have higher rates of illiteracy which limits their ability to access more profitable income generation opportunities. Women are often more vulnerable to malnutrition. They also have fewer coping strategies available because they are less mobile and lack access to resources. 

R4 Reduces Women’s Vulnerability And Empowers Them

The two studies conducted by the Institute of Development Studies and Oxfam America found that R4 is reducing women’s vulnerability and contributing to their empowerment enabling them to improve their families’ income and food security in the following ways:

  • Women report increased access to land, seeds and water for irrigation and drinking.
  • They benefit from training in numeracy, literacy and business which open opportunities in terms of access to credit and financial instruments. 
  • With more food and water available, they no longer have to travel far from home, gaining time to dedicate to their families and small businesses.
  • In turn, this makes them more confident about their ability to feed their children, pay school fees and other expenses through small financial gains.

How is R4 doing it?

Binta Ndao is part of Oxfam America’s Saving for Change programme, on which R4’s savings component is built. Her story shows how R4 is enabling women farmers to cope with climate risk by establishing small-scale savings. These act as a buffer against short-term needs and other shocks, such as illness and death. Her gains, as well those of other women, have been possible thanks to practices developed through the R4 initiative, including:

  • Equal participation of men and women in village-level planning and management committees. This has led to better identification of participants and their needs. For example, the division of labor on community disaster risk reduction activities was made on a consensual basis, with men devoted to tasks that require more physical strength. 
  • Inclusion of activities explicitly targeting women, such as the development of vegetable gardens, the improvement of rice cultivation, and the creation of savings groups.
  • Inclusion of men in activities traditionally reserved to women such as savings groups, which increase household resources and solidarity between men and women. 

“I really appreciate this group,” says Binta talking about the savings group established by R4. “Before I could get these loans, if someone was sick or you had a problem, you did not have any resources.”  For more on Binta, click here.

R4 in Senegal

A group of Women participate to a SfC group in Koussanar, Senegal.
A group of Women participate to a SfC group in Koussanar, Senegal. (Photo:WFP/Fabio Bedini)

R4 Senegal started operations in 2013 and today is working with over 5,000 farmers. The program, financed by USAID, Swiss Re and the Government of Norway recently received a $500,000 award from USAID’s prestigious Development Innovation Ventures Program (DIV), to further expand the program in the region of Kolda, Southern Senegal. DIV is an open innovation fund within USAID that sources, tests, and scales breakthrough solutions to global development challenges.

R4, a partnership between WFP and Oxfam America since 2011, has broken new ground in climate risk management by integrating various risk management strategies, including innovative index-based insurance, that enable the poorest farmers to pay for drought insurance with their labour, increasing their food and income security.

The four components of R4 are:

  • Improved resource management through asset creation (risk reduction)
  • Insurance (risk transfer)
  • Livelihoods diversification and microcredit (prudent risk taking) and
  • Savings (risk reserves)