Why regional climate innovations are our best chance for climate adaptation

WFP Innovation Accelerator
7 min readJun 5, 2024


5 reasons why investing in regional climate innovations will help build global climate resilience and strengthen agriculture and food systems.

By Sanjna Sudan

Illustration: WFP/ Sanjna Sudan

“Many of the world’s most fragile countries are those most impacted by climate change. Already ravaged by conflict, insecurity and poverty, climate change is an accelerator of humanitarian needs. The result is more hunger, more poverty, more insecurity and more migration,” said Cindy McCain, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, during COP28 in 2023. “Most of these places contributed almost nothing to climate change yet are paying the highest price. The world must come together to support those on the frontlines of this crisis — anything less is simply unacceptable.”

Ending world hunger is one of the greatest challenges of our time; as many as 309 million people are facing acute levels of food insecurity in 2024 in the 72 countries with WFP operations and where data is available. The ongoing climate crisis is only exacerbating this challenge. Climate change impacts the entire food system that brings food from farms to our plates. Changes in weather patterns, extreme events, pests and diseases pose significant challenges to food security and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Additionally, global food demand is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050, requiring us to produce more food than ever.

At WFP we believe that communities affected by climate change are also the best placed to find and scale solutions. Here are five reasons why we believe supporting regional climate innovations is key to building climate adaptation and resilience:

#1 Tailored solutions provide outsized benefits over one-size-fits-all

Climate change impacts vary greatly depending on local contexts. Innovative solutions tailored to specific regional challenges, such as droughts or rising sea levels are needed to tackle these. A one-size-fits-all approach could be ineffective without working collaboratively with at-risk communities. Therefore, at the WFP Innovation Accelerator, we organize innovation programmes with specific themes, encouraging applicants to apply with their locally-rooted innovative solutions and startups.

For example, the DGIx Digital & Green Innovation Accelerator Programme, run by the WFP Innovation Accelerator and the #SmartDevelopmentFund (#SDF), sought technology-powered solutions to pressing environmental challenges in countries like Benin, Cameroon, Kenya and Malawi. All ten innovators selected for the bootcamp and pitch event hosted in Rwanda resided in or implemented their solutions in the target countries. Like DGIx, our other innovation programmes keep specific regional challenges and local communities at the centre of programme design. Throughout our programmes, we work with the innovators to support them in strengthening their business models and making their innovations sustainable and scalable.

#2 Leveraging local knowledge and strengths unlocks new potential for impact

Community members often possess deep knowledge of their local environment and traditional practices. Regional innovations can harness this local wisdom to create more sustainable and culturally appropriate solutions.

For example, fonio is a nutritious and climate-resilient staple crop in West Africa that has suffered a decline in production in recent years because the process is labour-intensive and done by hand. As a result, it has become less popular as a food item in the region and very little is known about it outside of West Africa.

Sanoussi Diakité, a mechanical engineer from Kolda, Senegal, grew up seeing his mother spend hours processing fonio by hand to feed their family. Seeing his mother hard at work, Sanoussi developed a machine to ease her burden. He invented the Fonio Machine, which processes Fonio 30 times faster than manual methods. The machine is sold to women-led processing units through partnerships with financial institutions to support sales. Awareness campaigns and training sessions, especially targeting youth, are organized to reintroduce fonio into the local community’s food habits.

This has not only made an almost forgotten yet nutritious regional climate-resilient food crop more accessible and inexpensive but has also positively impacted the local food system. Knowledge about growing and processing fonio crops has also opened livelihood opportunities for female smallholder farmers in the region.

Photo: Rolex Awards/Fatoumata Diébaté

#3 Regional innovations learn fast and adapt faster:

Regional innovations target specific challenges based on the founders’ own experiences. Therefore, they can be tested and adapted quickly, allowing faster learning and improvement.

One such innovation supported by the WFP Innovation Accelerator is Nilus, a technology company aiming to eradicate hunger by reducing the cost of healthy food and inefficiencies in the food supply chain through food rescue and community group buying. As a result, Nilus has saved the equivalent of 8,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

Nilus founder Ady Beitler was first struck by the unfairness of food systems towards the poor while working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“This was a problem that was in my mind for over twelve years, and it took time to mature,” he shares. In 2018, Ady and his co-founders started Nilus as a nonprofit, with the ethos that ‘poverty cannot be more expensive than wealth.’

However, the team soon realized that operating as an NGO was challenging due to high reliance on donations and volunteers, making it harder to raise capital and hire top talent. Through testing and adapting, Nilus transitioned to a for-profit model in the region. After establishing an operational presence in Argentina and Mexico, Nilus teamed up with WFP Peru to complete a successful pilot in the country. Nilus is now collaborating with WFP to introduce new, tailored solutions in other Latin American contexts, demonstrating their quick-to-learn attitude and capacity for adaptation.

#4 Builds local ownership and economic opportunities:

When communities are involved in developing solutions for their regions, they are more likely to take ownership and ensure the innovation’s long-term success. Investing in regional climate innovations can stimulate economic growth by fostering the development of new industries, creating green jobs and attracting investment in clean technologies.

“The most effective approaches to climate change adaptation happen locally. To protect as many people as possible from climate risks, climate finance needs to be allocated strategically and with strong links to local and regional institutions.” — Gernot Laganda, Director of Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction, World Food Programme.

For example, Solar 4 Resilience (S4R) is a project started by the World Food Programme India, the state government of Odisha in India and the private company Science for Society (S4S) Technologies. S4S, an Earthshot award-winning organization, was founded by Nidhi Pant and her six college friends in Maharashtra, India when they realized the potential of solar-based technologies. Some 300,000 women smallholder farmers supported by S4S have recorded 10- 15% increases in their profits, while the 2,000 female entrepreneurs they partner with have seen incomes double or even triple.

Through WFP India, S4R replicates S4S’s innovative model in Odisha and aims to scale the use of solar-based technologies to build resilience and improve the livelihoods of female smallholder farmers. The project focuses on vegetables, millet, fish, seafood and other commodities. Women receive low-interest loans from local banks to purchase innovative solar dryers to process perishable food that would otherwise be wasted. These women become micro-entrepreneurs, gain access to markets for processed food and receive training in finance and quality assurance.

“Food waste, rural poverty and gender inequality are deeply intertwined challenges for the people of India. S4S’s innovative solution combines cutting-edge technology with the practical support and training needed to ensure women farmers can thrive and improve their livelihoods for themselves and their families. “ shares Nidhi.

Initiatives like S4R foster community involvement and public-private partnerships locally, demonstrating the power of regional innovations to drive sustainable development and economic growth.

#5 Foster collaboration and build on knowledge to scale:

Successful regional innovations can inspire and be adapted by other regions facing similar challenges, fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing across the globe.

Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), a unique collaboration of six agri-focused organizations across four African countries, exemplifies this path to scale. Starting in 2016 in Tanzania, WFP and five other organizations partnered with local private sector actors to deliver comprehensive products and services tailored to farmers’ needs during climate crises. Over the past seven years, the consortium’s collaborative nature has enabled significant growth in scale and impact, helping farmers in the region tackle challenges by learning from others ‘each other’s experiences.

In 2023, the programme registered a 34% increase in Farmers Service Centres (FSCs) from 1,898 to 2,549 which resulted in over 618,000 farmers being impacted and over 2.7 million Household members benefiting from improved food security. Over 130,000MT of crops valued at over USD 45 Million were aggregated and sold through the FSCs. Today, over 60 local private sector partners have been involved in this initiative.

“At the Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), we collaborate with WFP’s Regional Bureau for East and South Africa and the WFP Innovation Accelerator in Munich to foster innovations that support African smallholder farmers to achieve yield increases, connectivity to markets, and strengthened resilience to climate shocks. We have partnered with startups and innovations that provide farmers with crucial information, investment, and climate-friendly farm inputs. We have hosted over 10 startup innovations at FtMA but some recent examples include our collaborations with Boomitra, Toothpick Company, Aflasight and SheCan with other innovative pilots planned to start this year,” shares Mads Lofvall, Managing Director, FtMA.

As the world heats up, we will face a future markedly different from what we are used to. However, supporting regional climate innovations and the innovators behind them is our best chance to adapt to what lies ahead.

In 2024, with support from the Adaptation Fund, the WFP Innovation Accelerator is launching the Climate Adaptation Innovation Programme (CAIAP) to source and enable climate innovations over the next five years. This year, the programme seeks climate solutions that can work in the Middle East and North African countries: Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt.

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter, and subscribe to our e-newsletter to stay updated on such opportunities to join our innovation programmes.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: http://innovation.wfp.org. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and watch our videos on YouTube.



WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.