The beneficiaries of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)—mostly poor rural small-scale producers in developing countries — are among the most impacted by climate change-induced shocks such as floods and droughts. The impact they experience is disproportionate  to their minimal contribution to the problem. Supporting beneficiaries to adapt to climate change is one of the priorities of IFAD that is closest to our heart and where we think our innovations should be focused. How to reach this objective? How can we involve and sensitize people? What new approaches can be used?

Achieving aims through the UN Innovation Toolkit

Let’s begin with the basics. What is adaptation to climate change? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines it as, “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate change and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects” (IPCC, WGII, III).

Between 2019 and 2021, IFAD has invested about $1220 million including co-financing in climate finance across the developing world. Ninety per cent of this went to climate adaptation interventions by small-scale producers. As part of the Research and Impact Assessment Team, we started out by asking, how much have we achieved? How much do people adopt the practices promoted? What are the impacts?

As implied by the IPCC definition, climate change adaptation is a context-specific process as are livelihood and production strategies. It is also influenced and determined by the natural resource base in each context, the available infrastructure and by the types, intensity and frequency of risks and shocks to which different contexts are exposed.

Measuring the rates of adoption of these varied adaptation options and their impacts on livelihoods is critical to understanding what options work best and can help  lead people to adopt.

How does this work in practice using the UN Innovation Toolkit?    

We looked into the UN Innovation Toolkit  and thought that the Innovation Storytelling tool would help us communicate and change the culture to help achieve our aim. People need facts to be convinced, but facts are only convincing when they come with a good story, one that involves people, their contexts, their background, and their challenges. These thoughts allowed us to realize the importance of first understanding what is going on in the contexts where we operate, document what is happening, and understand what is important to the people we serve.

We realized that given the context-specificity requirement of adaptation, it is important to understand and document each story and project where we operate. The work we conduct is a good way to learn from evidence, and evidence is a strong instrument to tell convincing stories. This is what we do when we visit countries to engage stakeholders in our work, to share their stories, and to help us better  understand their contexts. We gain with a more complete story to validate together with our stakeholders; and this is what we did for example in Bolivia, Tajikistan and in many other countries.

Examples of adaptation options that we study among IFAD-supported projects include instituting rotational livestock feeding plans to rehabilitate degraded pastures in Tajikistan or supporting crop production using small-scale irrigation in drought-prone areas of Bolivia

How we used the Innovation Storytelling tool to reach our audience

To  build a good story we need to understand the story. As a first step we engaged with stakeholders (implementers, beneficiaries, project design team, government, etc.) to understand what  adaptation options were promoted in these projects and what they consisted of.

As a second step, we decided to develop an innovative screening tool where we organized these adaptation options by type and context so as to assess drivers and rate of adoption. As a result, we formulated specifically tailored survey questions.   

Finally, we measured the impacts of adaptation choices on people’s livelihoods through household-level data analysis that is enriched by geo-referenced data and by focus-group discussions and by talking to key  stakeholders. This allows us to have a complete story.

At the end of our impact assessment work, we followed the four-steps of the Innovation Storytelling tool to effectively communicate our results with our main audience. The audience is comprised of technical experts involved in the design of climate adaptation projects, operational stakeholders that implement the projects on the ground, and donors that fund the interventions.

This means that as a first step, we decided on what the main takeaway would be from our impact assessment of projects in terms of the lessons learned from what worked and did not work in promoting climate change adaptation in specific contexts.

Second, we identified the main audience that would be interested in our results. Third, we chose the appropriate storytelling or communication method that involves writing technical reports for the technical audience while distilling our main findings into policy briefs and infographics geared towards operational staff and policymakers. Fourth, we made sure to present our findings in a visually appealing way to our IFAD colleagues, relevant government authorities, and our donors through seminars and validation workshops. We also remained available to answer follow up questions from our audience. 

Fostering a culture to learn from impacts and help promote adaptation to climate

To document how adaptation led to better livelihoods, we relied on storytelling to communicate the challenges posed by climate change and the importance of adapting today for a better tomorrow.

More specifically, we combined the UN Innovation Toolkit storytelling insights with the more quantitative analysis that we normally conduct at IFAD. This process assesses the impacts of IFAD’s investments on key livelihood indicators. We aim to foster a culture change towards the importance of learning from evaluation rather than seeing it as just an audit of project performance. The ultimate aim is to more effectively communicate the critical need to adapt to climate change as it poses an existential challenge to the people we serve.

To capture the lessons and stories emerging from the evaluation we conduct, we generated tools and stories that we are using to disseminate information about the importance of adapting to climatic risks and challenges and provide examples of how this can be achieved.

To learn more about the impact of IFAD’s operations at both corporate and project level including on climate adaptation options and much more, please visit our recently released reports here.