Climate change

Image-based insurance protects Kenyan smallholder farmers from climate change


John Poi Namanjelie applies fertilizer on his farm near Bungoma in western Kenya. He took care of the crops, including beans and corn

As climate change worsens, millions of small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are facing unprecedented climate change and influxes of pests and diseases that ravage their farms and devastate their livelihoods. However, a climate-smart crop insurance program introduced in Kenya combines satellite data and smartphone images to provide farmers with much-needed protection.

To protect farmers against climate change and increase productivity and resilience, governments and private sector actors have explored various financing solutions. Among them, index weather insurance, which relies on satellite imagery to determine whether a particular area – sometimes covering as many as 1,000 farmers – has been affected by harsh weather conditions, such as excessive rainfall or drought. . When affected by extreme weather conditions, farmers enrolled in the program automatically receive payment.

However, although the insurance scheme has proven to be popular, the model used to determine payments has posed challenges. For example, while satellite images provide a general view of large geographic areas, they do not measure precipitation or drought levels in localized or specific areas. This can cause farmers not to receive the payments they need. Smallholders are also expected to pay for visits by “loss assessors,” who determine if payments are required by going to farms – and for many, this has made index insurance too expensive.

John Poi Namanjelie presents the Picture Based Insurance climate app on his farm near Bungoma, western Kenya. He took care of the crops, including beans and corn

Develop a better image

Inspired by the need to create a solution to provide more localized information in the event of weather-induced agricultural disasters, Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise (ACRE Africa) introduced a climate-smart crop insurance program combining satellite data and smartphone images. The initiative is part of the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) program, which is jointly funded by the International Development Research Center and the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.

Dubbed “Image-Based Insurance” (PBI), the program requires Champion Farmers to periodically take photos on behalf of farmers’ crops at various stages of growth, including at planting, mid-season, and before and after. after harvest. This data is then used by insurance companies and associated agronomists to determine whether a farmer is eligible for payment and, if so, by how much. To make the program sustainable, PBI also provides farmers with access to high-quality certified seed, input funding, farm advice, and agronomist-led information on regional weather conditions.

“Through the use of satellite and smartphone images, and by providing eyes on the ground to observe farm management practices, the PBI program addresses the challenges of basis risk, gaps between insurance payments and the real losses of farmers; and ultimately, low confidence in insurers among farmers. PBI also promotes the adoption of resilient agricultural technologies and strives to better engage smallholder farmers, which helps to further improve confidence, ”said Lilian Waithaka, PBI Project Manager.

To ensure that PBI is working on the ground, the program relies on ‘village champions’, who are trained in different aspects of insurance, why crops should be insured and how different Agronomic practices, such as mulching, can increase their yields. These champions pass on their new knowledge and skills to other farmers, with the aim of persuading them to buy the insurance product.

Farmers can register for PBI by simply dialing a USSD code on their phone. The payment of insurance premiums is also made on their mobile, using the MPESA payment service, the price of which varies from 50 Ksh (0.56 CAD / 0.61 AUD) to 1000 Ksh (11.25 CAD / AUD 12.25). Once the payments are triggered and verified, the money is sent directly to the farmers’ MPESA account.

Betting on champion farmers to increase insurance subscription

Mary Nasimiyu at her farm near Bungoma in western Kenya. She is a champion farmer and grows corn and beans in association

In Bungoma and Busia counties in western Kenya, where the project is currently being rolled out, 6,000 producers of maize, beans and sorghum have signed up for the insurance scheme. Sixty Champion Farmers worked hard to lead the initiative in the two counties. “When we launched this project in 2019, the original idea was for each champion farmer to have 250 farmers in their network. They had even collected all the details of the farmers, ”explains Patyster Lusweti, supervisor of ACRE Africa. “Then COVID-19 hit, and we were forced to cut between 20 and 40 per champion farmer to meet guidelines on travel reduction and social distancing. “

John Poi Namanjelie is a champion farmer from Bungoma County. He practices mixed farming – growing vegetables, fruits, corn, beans, bananas and sorghum – on his 1.2 ha farm to build his climate resilience, but previously only produced enough for home consumption. . Since adopting PBI, John has been able to increase his yields and start selling his products. He also trains other farmers in good management practices and the importance of insuring their seeds. “The farmers in the region have warmed up to the idea of ​​this insurance, mainly because they have seen the payments happen and because we, their fellow farmers, are the ones who sell the insurance,” he explains. he.

Adopting the PBI also provided an unexpected benefit to Mary Nasimiyu, a young farmer also from Bungoma County. With access to better quality corn seeds through the PBI program, Mary improved her yields, which allowed her to sell her produce in local markets, diversify into market gardening and even grow. create your own clothing store. She also recruited other young people, the majority of whom had refused to go into farming due to low yields. “Due to the diversification of crops and new farming methods, I have received many requests from young people wanting to get into farming,” says Mary. “I am happy with the small revolution that we are creating together to encourage more young people to cultivate. “

As more and more farmers take out this insurance, there has been an increasing demand to increase the crops covered and to introduce more inputs into the program. “We recently conducted a survey of farmers’ willingness to purchase other inputs, such as fertilizers and crop protection products, including pesticides and herbicides, if they are included in the insurance scheme. Patyster shares. “A huge percentage of farmers welcomed the idea and said they would be ready to invest.”

Mary adds that the interests of farmers extend to other areas as well. “In my interaction with farmers, especially younger ones, there have been calls to increase the range of crops that can be grown to include horticulture.”