In 2007, Oxfam America, Swiss Re and a host of partners developed a framework to help poor farmers in Ethiopia’s drought-prone northern state of Tigray improve their income and strengthen their food security. Called HARITA, or the Horn of Africa Risk Transfer Adaptation, it combined opportunities for improved resource management, insurance, and microcredit. In 2010, the success of the program led Oxfam America and the United Nations World Food Programme to agree to expand the HARITA model on a multi-national scale. Together, as equal partners, they launched the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative.
Throughout Ethiopia, where many people depend on rain-fed farming to make their livings, uncertain weather threatens countless families with hunger each year. And climate change—which can increase the frequency and severity of drought—is making things worse.
But Ethiopia is not alone in the struggles it faces. Decades of underinvestment in agriculture have hampered the ability of small farmers around the world to produce well, leaving them vulnerable to food insecurity. In 2009, the number of people going to sleep hungry each night reached more than one billion—an all-time high. That figure has declined somewhat—dropping to 925 million in 2010—but the urgency of tackling the problem remains.
Women, who are responsible for the majority of food production in many developing countries, often face the biggest challenges because of their restricted access to markets, land and credit. They frequently work on small plots and rarely own the land, which prevents them from accessing credit or gaining long-term security. For example, across Africa, women access only one percent of total available credit in the agriculture sector.
In 2007,Oxfam America, together with a host of partners, launched a pilot program to work with farmers on building their resilience to climate change. It was called HARITA, or Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation. The program allowed the poorest farmers to use their labor to buy insurance– an idea suggested by the farmers themselves. It works in conjunction with Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program, or PSNP, which provides 8 million of the country’s most vulnerable residents with food or cash in exchange for work. Through the PSNP, farmers who bought insurance worked extra days on community projects, such as planting trees and grasses to promote soil and water conservation, to pay for their premiums. More prosperous farmers paid their insurance premiums in cash.
In the event of drought, insurance payouts are triggered automatically when rainfall drops below a pre-determined threshold, enabling farmers to afford the seeds and inputs necessary to plant in the following season and protecting them from having to sell off productive assets to survive. With the cushion insurance provided, the farmers were able to take other well-considered risks that allow them to build a more secure future for their families.
From its launch in Ethiopia with the enrollment of 200 households in one village in 2009, the project grew to enroll more than 13,000 households in 43 villages in 2011– directly affecting approximately 75,000 people.
Today, the HARITA program is known as the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, a partnership between Oxfam America and the United Nations World Food Programme. R4 will expand deeper into Ethiopia and move into Senegal and two other countries in the next five years. R4 also constitutes a first step toward developing a sustainable insurance market for poor people, an essential factor in ensuring farmers’ livelihoods and food security over the long term.