As a maize farmer in Tigania West, Meru County, Joseph Ibeere has encountered dozens of challenges with the crop, largely driven by unpredictable weather.
Mr Ibeere is on the list of millions of other smallscale farmers across the world who find themselves on the edge due to the rising threats of extreme weather.
“The recommended quality seeds are often hard to access but even after you find them, sometimes you’re not guaranteed good harvest due to rainfall failure,” he said.
Last year, the farmer took up a crop insurance package to cushion him from climate change phenomena such as drought and floods.
Mr Ibeere insured an acre of maize at Sh1,000 and got a Sh7, 500 compensation.
“Shortage of rains has been an issue in this region; therefore, many avoided farming. However, when we realised that we can be compensated for what we lose, we are feeling motivated to farm again,” he pointed out.
The risks posed by climate change have been projected to rise significantly and farmers are increasingly being advised to take up crop insurance to protect them against losses triggered by weather unpredictability.
So far, more than 500 farmers in Meru have taken up the insurance.
Agricultural insurance, according to experts, offer a sustainable approach to unlocking small-scale farmers’ investments in agriculture while enhancing their resilience and productivity.
Over the years, however, the number of successful insurance schemes targeting smallholder farmers has remained low for a number of reasons, among them high monitoring and verification costs of traditional insurance.
Furthermore, many insurers considered agriculture a high risk area, hence a no-go zone.
To address insurance cover for smallholders, a number of entities among them the government and Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise Ltd (ACRE Africa) have started programmes to encourage farmers on the need and benefits of the cover.
In 2018, ACRE Africa partnered with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) to promote insurance preparedness for farmers while linking them to products to enable them confidently invest in farming.
The programme covers crops such as maize, green grams, beans, sorghum and potato.
Lawrence Kenduiywa, the head of actuarial services at ACRE Africa, explains that farmers who have policies have their crops monitored throughout from planting to maturity.
Monitoring, he says, differs from one product to another.
“We use two products in livestock insurance, namely livestock mortality that covers death of livestock and index-based livestock insurance that uses satellite data to monitor the vegetation of the rangeland.
“When the vegetation cover decreases below a particular threshold, a payout is triggered,” says Kenduiywa.
Mr Kenduiywa added that crop insurance like livestock insurance uses two products: weather index based insurance, which relies on satellite data and rainfall threshold to trigger payouts and compensation.
The expert noted that the claim process is easy since the payouts are automatic and goes to farmer’s mobile money wallets at the end of the season.
“We are working with a number of insurance companies. This season we paid out about 33,000 US dollars (Sh3.3 million),”he said.
Dennis Kiogora, the business developer at APA Insurance, explains that before a farmer is enrolled in any insurance scheme, they are trained to understand what the crop insurance they have taken entails.
Mr Kiogora notes that many smallholder farmers are not aware of crop insurance while many of them also do not consider farming as a business.
He notes that part of the training that farmers are taken through includes proper agronomic practices and why crops should be insured.
“Taking crop insurance doesn’t mean you stop managing or taking care of your crops as farmers. As insurance providers, we cover and compensate you from risks that are out of the control of the farmer,” Mr Kiogora stated, adding that insurance is a risk mitigation, hence a farmer doesn’t have to be compensated if his hasn’t been at any risk.
Even though crop insurance cover has been quite helpful for small-scale farmers like Mr Ibeere, the monitoring technology that uses satellite data and that from automated weather stations installed by ACRE has its limitation.
Since the satellite provides images covering a wide geographic region, there are instances where data sets do not correlate hence some farmers within the region might be disadvantaged.
For instance, the technology sometimes shows that it has rained in Meru, yet will not show that it hasn’t rained in a particular sub-county or village and vice-versa.
“The satellite imagery hasn’t been quite reliable especially for us farmers in Tigania West. Meru generally receives a lot of rainfall but Tigania West region hardly receives any but the satellite will simply show that the entire Meru region received rainfall, which brings conflicts during payout claims,” explained Mr Ibeere.
To correct mishaps and complement the use of satellite data, ACRE Africa has introduced a technology that uses both satellite data and smartphone imagery targeting for smallscale farmers.
Known as Picture Based Index (PBI), the technology involves periodically taking photos of a crop field from a particular position throughout the season. The work which is done by village extension service providers and recruited by the firm, aims at bridging the gap between satellite data and actual farmer’s experience.
The extension officers use a smartphone app, and are required to stand at a specific location on the farm while taking pictures. The move ensures there are many pictures of the same farm across the season from planting to harvesting
George Kuria, the CEO of ACRE Africa, says the use of Picture-Based Index will improve trust between farmers and insurers and lead to more farmers adopting insurance products.
Mr Kuria notes that so far 43,000 farmers have been trained in crop insurance cover this year in Kenya.
The group targets to train 100,000 farmers by next year.
“We train the village extension service providers so that they can train other farmers from a farmer-to-farmer level. We have recruited and trained more than 500 village extension service providers in Kenya. Among them, 60 percent are women and about 40 percent are youth.”
Picture Based Insurance is a project under the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAf) programme that is jointly funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR).
Source: Some pictures used here are courtesy of our partnership with AgriFin