Ensuring food security for smallholder farmers with microinsurance and microcredit

Progetto concluso
An instructor talks amidst a group of farmers standing in a circle
Explaining the R4 initiative to farmers in Balaka district, southern Malawi. (2014) © WFP/Rachael Wilson © WFP

Climate change has a heavy impact on food security for smallholder farmers in Zambia and Malawi. A project combining microinsurance, microfinance and measures for disaster prevention aims at strengthening their capacity to adapt. Promising results have already been seen in Ethiopia and Senegal. 

Paese/Regione Tema Periodo Budget
Comunità di sviluppo dell'Africa meridionale (SADC)
Agricoltura e sicurezza alimentare
Sviluppo agricolo
Ricerca agricola
Sviluppo della catena di valore agricola (til 2016)
01.01.2011 - 30.06.2017
CHF  6’685’000

Faced with chronic famine, Malawi relies upon emergency humanitarian aid on a regular basis. In Zambia, climate change is increasingly endangering harvests in the south.

The first to fall victim to this food insecurity are smallholder farmers. The SDC is seeking to address this by supporting an innovative project in these two countries that has already been tested in Ethiopia and Senegal. Around 2,500 smallholder family farms in Malawi and 1,500 in Zambia are expected to benefit during the first phase, which will run until 2017. The farms that have been chosen are run by women or people affected by HIV/AIDS, two population groups that are particularly vulnerable. 


The R4 Rural Resilience Initiative (R4) combines four climate risk management tools. Its innovative approach is to provide smallholders who are most at risk from drought or floods with agricultural microinsurance. In the event of climate shocks or harvest losses, this insurance guarantees them a basic income for food.

Community work for risk prevention

Another innovative measure is that the project allows farmers to pay their insurance premiums by taking part in community work. All these activities are aimed at preventing or reducing the impact of climate change on the population: rehabilitating irrigation systems, improving soil water retention, sustainable farming practices in the fields, constructing access roads, etc. Women who run farms alone can benefit from measures that are better suited to their schedules which are often very restrictive. For example, they can cultivate vegetable plots that are ecologically sound and count the time spent on this as community work.

The project also includes the installation of new weather stations in Zambia and Malawi. Based on these weather indications – combined with rain detection satellite data – it will be possible to calculate the price of insurance premiums and better anticipate bad harvests.  Cutting-edge partners such as the insurance company Swiss Re, NASA and the University of Columbia, are involved in the project.

Facilitating access to microcredit

A third area of focus is encouraging access to microcredit for farmers. Local microfinancing agencies are generally disinclined to include smallholder farmers in their client base, but the microinsurance scheme available to smallholders has changed this situation: the risk insurance means that the repayments are now guaranteed. As a parallel measure, the project also provides for training microcredit agencies in limiting the debt risk.  

Savings to prevent future risks

The combination of microinsurance and microcredit is intended to encourage farmers to invest in agricultural activities (inputs, equipment) without fear of losing their farm the following year. The project also encourages farmers to save – both collectively and individually –  to ensure access to microinsurance for the long term and to deal with other types of shocks or events that are not covered (death, illness, etc.). In addition, these reserves can enable farmers to invest in non-farming activities. In so doing, the project not only improves food security for smallholder farmers but also strengthens their financial security by increasing and diversifying their income.

Promising results in Ethiopia and Senegal

Launched in 2011 by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Oxfam America, the R4 initiative has already helped 25,000 farmers in Ethiopia and 6,000 in Senegal improve their capacity to cope with climate change. Farmers who have insurance are able to save twice as much as those without and invest a greater amount in high-quality seed, fertiliser and infrastructure for their farms. Farms managed by women have even doubled their gains in productivity.