Why local businesses are the key to climate adaptation

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To make development efforts more sustainable, businesses need incentives to invest in community-level climate change adaptation programmes – but resistance to creating those incentives is still strong, climate change specialists said this week in Nairobi.

Some adaptation efforts steer clear of working with businesses, concerned that their aims might be compromised by a search for profit, the experts said at an international meeting on community-based adaptation to climate change.

But other projects see working with business as the route to lasting change.

“We must work with the private sector,” said Madan Prasad Pariyar, the director of programme development for iDE, a non-governmental organisation that works to create income and job opportunities for poor Nepali farmers.

“Otherwise, we can provide all the inputs and services we want to farmers – but when the programme funds run out, then who fills our gap? That is not sustainable development.”

That approach is evident even in iDE’s emergency fund-raising campaign following a devastating earthquake in Nepal. “We are not a relief organisation,” iDE said, adding that it needs support to help “communities recover through increasing income from commercial agriculture.”

The organisation’s work involves helping small-scale farmers tap into commercial networks, creating better and cheaper access to things like seeds, fertiliser and finance, and also to markets where they can sell what they grow.

That work – which also includes giving farmers training and help selecting appropriate crops based on weather and market forecasts – relies heavily on working with businesses.

“The private sector must be brought into these projects in the beginning, and planning done between them, traders and the farmers,” said Pariyar, whose work in Nepal is supported b by BRACED, a $216 million UK government-supported effort aimed at “building resilience and adaptation to climate extremes and disasters” in particularly challenging countries in Africa and Asia.

The iDE Nepal project helps subsistence farmers – most of whom have less than one hectare and little surplus to sell – to organise collection centres where their spare produce is brought together. Collected vegetables or other crops are then transported to large markets or purchased by regular visiting buyers.

The system allows farmers – and also the traders involved – to make more sales and profit, Pariyar said.

Resistance to partnerships with the private sector often hinges on a belief that focusing on the business bottom line will compromise people’s rights. Changing that, Pariyar said, “is only an issue of trust-building.”

Technology also has given farmers new tools to ensure their rights are protected in such partnerships.

“If a farmer thinks he’s being cheated, now he can use his mobile cell to check on sale prices,” Pariyar said.

Learning from failure

Businesses offer one particularly useful lesson for adaptation efforts – experience in how to fail and start again, said Kevin Ochieng, founder of the Climate Action Programme for School Children and Youth, also funded by the UK Department for International Development.

“The private sector fails all of the time, and this is necessary to be innovative,” he said at the 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation in Nairobi, which ends Thursday.

“If you need to solve a problem, why not make it exciting? And why not make money doing it?” asked Ochieng, 28, who works as a youth advisor to the U.N. Environment Programme.

Ochieng said that in his role he faces two challenges: how to get young people involved in climate change adaptation, and how to help local communities improve their livelihoods.

To solve both, he is working with young people around Kenya to help them learn entrepreneurial and business skills.

On group in western Kenya, he said, took out a micro-loan to set up a chicken hatchery, and made agreements with commercial buyers. The effort met market demand but also amounted to effective climate change adaptation, as it shifted jobs away from rice farming, which has been hit by dwindling water supplies.

Other youth groups have come together to sell products they create under a common corporate brand, and to find savings by buying the raw materials they need in bulk, he said.

Young people have an advantage in innovation, he said, as “adults are too serious, and scared to fail.”

However, Ochieng cautioned that “we must be careful about where we draw the line between profit and people sometimes.”

This article is published in collaboration with The Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Kathryn M. Werntz is a Thomson Reuters Foundation editor and project manager based in Senegal and focused on efforts to build climate resilience.

Image: A boy touches a 45-metre long wall lighted by colour rays. REUTERS/China Daily.

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