Sep 1, 2011

Innovative Micro-insurance by M-PESA May Show The Way To Kenyan Food Abundance

Jane G Simon, the first farmer in Kenya to buy insured maize seed through Kilimo Salama
© Syngenta Foundation

One of the things holding back agriculture in Kenya and Africa in general is the unwillingness of farmers with small plots of land to invest in better seed and fertilizer. Only half of Kenyan farmers buy improved seeds or spend money on other inputs. Many use poor quality seeds kept from the previous harvests. This has the effect of reducing yields.

Kenya is currently facing the worst drought in 60 years that has left nearly 4 million Kenyans facing starvation. The drought has decimated Kenya's livestock,killing animals worth Ksh 64.2 billion ($690 million)according to the government,and the worst is yet to come.

As the Kenyan government ponders strategies to fight vagaries of weather on agricultural productivity, a pilot insurance program started in Kenya three years ago is expanding to cover a wider selection of crops including maize,wheat,beans and sorghum. Dubbed Kilimo Salama plus, the initiative which started as Kilimo Salama (which means Safe Farming in Kiswahili), is helping farmers to cushion their investments from drought,excess rain and other extreme weather conditions.

Kilimo Salama uses a combination of mobile phones and 30 automated solar-powered weather stations to provide crop insurance. It has been set up by Syngenta Foundation for sustainable agriculture,Safaricom and UAP Insurance

Smallholder farmers who have subscribed to the insurance program receive automatic payouts by M-PESA when their crops fail due to severe weather.

Majority of smallholder farmers in Kenya are poor and virtually all of them depend on rain-fed agriculture. If a farmer loses a crop one year,she won't have the cash to buy seeds the following year. One bad rainy season can be felt for many seasons later.

But with Kilimo Salama,when a farmer loses a harvest there is a fall back to help him buy farm inputs the next season.

 Kilimo Salama has also helped to re-build farmers' trust in the insurance sector, which is now under pressure to offer more products, such as livestock insurance.

Agricultural insurance is particularly important in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa today as the extreme weather patterns generated by climate change are introducing greater volatility to food production and food prices.

By registering farmers, the project is also creating a farmers' mobile phone database, which will be important in the future for sharing timely extension messages throughout a season, resulting in improved crop husbandry. Farmers need more than insurance. They need access to the right information. Once they have this, there will be less of a need to depend on insurance.

 Kilimo Salama also has plans to expand their scheme, offering insurance to other countries in East Africa.