Climate change looms as a huge factor in poverty alleviation, and thus an issue MEDA is grappling with. It’s something that hits poorest people the hardest, since they have the fewest resources to prepare for and rebuild after climate shocks. The World Bank estimates it will push 100 million additional people into poverty by 2030. The United Nations says climate change is also a potential driver of conflict, a “threat multiplier.” Among its consequences: food riots and unrest triggered by spiraling prices; clashes between farmers over land and water; competing demands on dwindling water supplies for irrigation or for cities.
Poor people often live in climate-vulnerable areas, prone to landslides or flooding, and severe weather incidents can often be the trigger to push them back into poverty even if they have begun to build a better future for themselves. Poor women, especially in rural areas, are often charged with the responsibility of securing water, food, and fuel for cooking and heating; their closely entwined lives with natural resources that are exposed to climate risk leaves them more vulnerable to climate risks than men. On many fronts, climate change impedes the economic progress we are helping our clients achieve. They need to be able to prepare for and cope with the shocks to their families and livelihoods.
Not everyone feels the same urgency about climate change. Our poor clients may feel they have more immediate needs like taking care of their family. Or they already work very long days and don’t feel a possible future problem is pressing enough to take action now. Not everybody knows how to respond, or might not have neighbors who can demonstrate how to make successful changes or use a new technology. Maybe they think they don’t have the time to learn new skills. Or they fear a change in behavior or a purchase of new technology is too risky. Many people, especially women, can’t afford the risk of trying something new, and getting access to credit to buy new technologies is not easy. Financial service providers, meanwhile, often don’t understand the risk and return of financing new products, so green credit instruments are not yet widely available and those that are have very high interest rates.
MEDA projects work closely with women farmers to adopt new practices that reduce their vulnerability to climate change. Over the years MEDA has perfected its “lead farmer” approach whereby we identify leaders who are running successful farms, have good business sense and some degree of influence among neighbors. We can pilot new approaches with lead farmers or put a new technology into their hands so they can demonstrate that new approach or technology for the rest of the community. Others can “see and believe” how the solution works. In Uganda we deployed a new irrigation technology using a flexible rainwater storage bag that holds 2.5 cubic metres of water, which allowed clients to collect water runoff for storage and later use and reduce the volume of storm water runoff, which prevents flooding and erosion around clients’ homes and farms. A technology like this is simple to produce yet efficient in proactively building resilience around water scarcity. It also harvests existing natural resources to be applied in a more effective manner. Imagine all the natural rainfall that was going unused!
In Myanmar we train lead farmers on climate resiliency for their crops and scale up adoption amongst thousands of smallholder farmers. In the future, we might even see these farmers as leaders in disaster risk reduction or in post-disaster rebuilding, since they are natural communicators of knowledge and are strong leaders and coordinators. They could act as early warning beacons and coordinate community-wide responses to climate risks. By facilitating connections and possibilities while equipping our clients to come up with solutions that suit their context and cultural reality, we believe we are creating lasting and resilient solutions to poverty that will endure the ravages of climate change. Our clients know their needs best and are most empowered when they can play a role in generating solutions for the future.