Getting climate resilience right – the case for backing smallholder organisations: Make Change Happen podcast episode 13

Article, 13 September 2021

Forest and farm smallholders are fighting for their livelihoods and food security. New research shows producers’ practical measures for climate resilience have impact, but barriers remain to scaling the work up and out. In this ‘super year’ of climate and nature, the latest episode of the Make Change Happen podcast hosts a discussion on what support smallholders need, and who should provide it.



IIED’s ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides an opportunity to hear our researchers and guests discuss key global development challenges and explain what we are doing to support positive change. 

Elizabeth Nsimadala, a smallholder farmer in Uganda and president of the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO), has a clear message on climate resilience and the success of food systems: “We believe in the saying ‘united we stand and divided we fall’”.

The benefits of organisation, cooperation and support between – and for – smallholders are at the heart of this episode, which explores forest and farm producer organisations’ (FFPOs) extraordinary capacity to build resilience in the face of climate change, and asks whether the international community will match their urgency and commitment with greater funding.

Small actors with huge impact

In forest landscapes, 1.3 billion smallholder farmers, communities and Indigenous Peoples must organise for climate resilience to survive.

Together, these men, women and young people represent over 16% of the global population: their resilience has defining significance for the world’s poverty reduction, food security, forest management, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and climate change adaptation.

In this episode, Elizabeth Nsimdala and Duncan MacQueen, an IIED expert on locally controlled forestry, explore why smallholders are so motivated to find environmentally-friendly solutions, and also share examples of what good creative climate action by FFPOs looks like in all its diversity – from adopting new crops to better product marketing.

But their creativity and collaboration is called upon to fund the climate-resilience work which we all benefit from: our panel also consider how little support smallholders doing this work receive from external sources.

United we stand?

Local leadership and a supportive policy environment are key to enabling the FFPOs to do effective climate resilience work. Clare Shakya, director of IIED’s Climate Change research group, joins the discussion to explore another increasingly recognised element of successful climate resilience work: moving funding and decision-making to the local level. 

A recent report co-authored by Shakya explored this issue. ‘Follow the money: tracking least developed countries’ (LDCs) adaptation finance to the local level’ found that the LDCs receive less than 3% of the funds they need to adapt to climate change. 

Of the money that did reach LDCs, there was little evidence of climate initiatives being led by local communities, despite nominally ‘participative’ project design criteria.

This all rings true for FFPOs. Greater funding with real FFPO input – while a small drop in the ocean of international climate budgets – would enable their existing contribution to climate resilience to grow and spread across organiser networks in Africa and Asia, to global effect.

Time for greater international backing

With a large number of opportunities for bold decisions on climate and nature imminent – the UN General Assembly, UN Food Summit, CBD COP15, COP26 and so more – a forthcoming report will cement the case for increased financial support for FFPOs doing the hard work for climate resilience. 

Discussing 'Diversification for climate resilience: thirty options for forest and farm producer organisations', report author Duncan Macqueen says: “If there’s one thing I learned from this whole body of research, it is that farmer organisations are excellent at climate resilience. And what they need is more support from us to be able to finance some of the things they’d like to put in place but can’t.” 

To find out more, listen to the full episode.

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The ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides informal insights into IIED’s work to create positive change and make the complex issues we face more accessible to wider audiences. The title refers to IIED’s 2019-2024 strategy, which sets out how IIED plans to respond to the critical challenges of our time. 

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