How to help smallholder farmers fight climate change

Reducing injustices embedded in the food and farming system will require a just transition and a resilient path in the agriculture sector.
The latest climate science reaffirms that global catastrophic weather conditions in the past decade can be attributed to climate change. Climate change, in turn, presents sustained threats to global food and water security. Food production systems are threatened by extreme disturbances in weather patterns, manifesting as increased frequency of droughts and floods.
Climate resilience is critical to ensuring food security. In the context of weather and climate, resilience refers to the ability of a system, community or society to cope with and recover from the adverse effects of climate-related hazards and to adapt to long-term changes without undermining food security or wellbeing.
Smallholder farmers produce approximately a third of the world’s food and are therefore critically important to food security, yet they receive the least financial support from climate finance agencies. Africa is home to an estimated 33 million smallholder farms, contributing up to 70% of the continent’s food supply. Furthermore, women account for 60% of Africa’s food production and are often disproportionately affected by climate change.
The uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) in South Africa, located in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, comprises seven local municipalities and is home to many smallholder farmers. Climate hazards that affect local communities in uMgungundlovu District include severe storms, flash floods and droughts. The Standardised Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index, used by the South African Weather Service to measure precipitation, evapotranspiration and drought, including long-term rainfall observations, has predicted severe ecological impacts and a warmer future for the region.
The uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) in UMDM aims to increase climate resilience of smallholder farmers via three key interventions: early warning systems, climate-smart agriculture and climate-proof settlements. Research — including my PhD thesis for the University of KwaZulu-Natal entitled “Climate Adaptation Finance and Food Security in South Africa” — on effects of the URP has revealed that climate adaptation finance enables smallholder farmers to build resilience to climate change.
Aim and study context
The URP aims to reduce the vulnerability of farming communities and small-scale farmers in the UMDM to the effects of climate change. Best practice is to increase climate resilience and adaptive capacity by combining traditional and scientific knowledge in an integrated approach to adaptation.
In the UMDM, a set of complementary interventions were implemented to enhance resilience. These interventions focused on early-warning and ward-based disaster response systems, use of climate-resilient crops and ...