Livestock director and partners launch first-ever index-based livestock insurance payments in Africa

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ILRI director general Jimmy Smith speaks to residents of Marsabit, in northern Kenya, where a livestock insurance scheme has made its first payouts to small livestock keepers following a prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute, made the following remarks on the occasion of the first payouts of index-based livestock insurance policies ever made to livestock herders in Africa in a region that has been afflicted by the drought that has reduced herds in the drylands of the Horn by a third.

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Inhabitants of Marsabit town, in northern Kenya, attend a special event marking the first payouts of  a livestock insurance scheme to small-scale livestock keepers following a prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘Today ILRI’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) project provides 650 livestock herders in Kenya’s remote Marsabit District with the very first payments of index-based livestock insurance claims ever made on this continent.

‘That makes this an important as well as historic moment.

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Members of the Marsabit community listen to speakers at the launch of the first payouts of livestock insurance in Africa (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘The success of any insurance scheme depends on its clients being confident that payments will be made if and when an insured event occurs. I hear that many have been reluctant to purchase the livestock insurance policies being offered to Marsabit’s livestock keepers in August and September of this year [2011] because the herders first wanted to be assured that this insurance product works and—in this time of great drought and livestock losses here and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa—if it will payout. Now that the appropriate payments are being made and in a timely manner, we hope we have earned the trust of people here, trust that will generate more widespread awareness and interest in this livestock insurance product.

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Women of the Marsabit community listen to speakers at the launch of the first payouts of livestock insurance in Africa (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘We are celebrating today not only the first payouts but also that the livestock index that predicts mortality in this region seems to be working well; several of our on-the-ground partners in Marsabit are in agreement with the figures. Our relatively inexpensive way of estimating livestock deaths in a time of drought and forage loss appears to be reliable and could now open the door to making livestock insurance widely available in Marsabit and similar areas in Kenya’s northern drylands, which are home to many of its pastoral peoples.

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At a village meeting in Dirib Gombo, farmers who took out livestock insurance hear they are to receive their first payout after a prolonged drought in the region (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘For all its initial success, this insurance project remains a work in progress. We’re aware of the challenges of raising awareness of the program in the more distant areas of Marsabit and making sales across the entire district. And even as we trust that those who purchased this livestock insurance will receive their payments in the shortest time possible, we recognize that many clients will have to be paid manually, a process that involves costly driving to areas as far as Loiyangalani and Illeret, where some pastoralists also bought contracts. That said, over the last three insurance sales periods since January 2010, Equity Bank’s Point of Sale systems and UAP’s telephone scanners have made the process more efficient. Over the next several seasons, on-going efforts will continue to improve the technology platforms delivering IBLI services, making them increasingly more cost-effective and accessible.

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At a village meeting in Dirib Gombo, officials prepare to make the first insurance payouts after a prolonged drought in the region (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘The most important sign of success is the response of the client. So even as payments are being made, we at ILRI want to know what impact the payments are having and how valuable the insurance product is. You will see the ILRI team in this area conducting research to understand how IBLI is benefiting the community and those households that bought livestock insurance. We worked with members of the community to design and develop this product, and we are keen to receive your suggestions about ways to improve it.

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At a village meeting in Dirib Gombo, farmers who took out livestock insurance receive their first payout after a prolonged drought in the region (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘‘A project such as this is necessarily a product of collaboration. ILRI and our commercial partners Equity Bank and UAP Insurance—those who actually market and sell the product—are quite visible, but there are several others that must be recognized. Cornell University and the Index Insurance Innovation Initiative (I4) based out of the University of California at Davis have been instrumental in the development of the IBLI product and supporting the research agenda behind it. Closer to the ground, members of the Marsabit District Steering Group have offered invaluable support and advice to the project team, as has Food for the Hungry International. The project has also received tremendous support from the Ministry of the Development of Northern Kenya and the Ministry of Livestock and the Provincial Administration, from the District Commissioner to chiefs and counsellors across Marsabit. Finally there are the hundreds of young men and women across all divisions of Marsabit who have worked tirelessly conducting surveys and product education and extension.

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Leader of the Index-Based Livestock Insurance Project, ILRI’s Andrew Mude (right), answers a questions from the Marsabit community (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘We’re now working to see if IBLI can be sustained by commercial partners such as Equity Bank, UAP and others that may be interested. Currently, however, the research, design and implementation of the IBLI project has been funded by numerous donors who believe in its potential. For this we must thank the European Union, the Global Index Insurance Facility, the Microinsurance Facility, the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development.  The British Government, through UKAID, has been one of the largest supporters of the project and, together with the European Union, will be funding the second phase of scaling up.’

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A farmer awaits a livestock insurance payout following a village meeting in Dirib Gombo, near the northern Kenyan town of Marsabit; some farmers in the village took out livestock insurance, and this year are receiving the first payouts after a prolonged drought in the region (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

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One of the many head of cattle that perished for lack of fodder in the drought that dried up the rangelands of Kenya’s Marsabit District this year (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

Read a related story on this ILRI News Blog: Herders in drought-stricken northern Kenya get first livestock insurance payments

Editor’s note, 26 Oct 2011: The original title of this blog post, ‘Livestock director and partners launch first-ever livestock insurance payments in Africa,’ was changed to ‘Livestock director and partners launch first-ever index-based livestock insurance payments in Africa;’ other forms of livestock insurance (not index-based) have been available in other parts of Africa. Two similar statements in the body of the blog were similarly corrected.

Herders in drought-stricken northern Kenya get first livestock insurance payments

Education on livestock insurance

Pastoralists from Marsabit, in Kenya’s remote northern drylands, play a game crafted by ILRI scientists to simulate livestock losses that could occur due to drought, in which the local herding communities are educated about how index-based livestock insurance works (image credit: ILRI).

As livestock deaths mount, a small group of herders in Kenya’s Marsabit District is first to benefit from program that tracks forage conditions via satellite.

In the midst of a drought-induced food crisis affecting millions in the Horn of Africa, an innovative insurance program for poor livestock keepers is making its first payouts today, providing compensation for some 650 insured herders in northern Kenya’s vast Marsabit District who have lost up to a third of their animals.

Known as index-based livestock insurance, or IBLI, payouts are triggered when satellite images show that grazing lands in the region have deteriorated to the point that herders are expected to be losing more than 15% of their herd. The current readings for which indemnities are now being paid show that between 18 and 33% of livestock have been lost to drought this season.

‘It’s terrible that we are seeing this level of loss, but gratifying that the policies are doing what they are supposed to do, which is to help herders avert disaster when weather conditions dry up pasture lands and animals begin to perish,’ said Isaac Magina, head of agriculture insurance at UAP Insurance Ltd.

‘When you look at a 33% loss, that is a significant portion of the asset base of any business and it would be difficult to survive without insurance,’ added Magina.

The insurance project was developed in partnership by the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Cornell University and the Index Insurance Innovation Initiative program at the University of California at Davis. Commercial partners Equity Bank and UAP Insurance Ltd implement the program. The IBLI project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the European Union, the British Government, the World Bank, the Microinsurance Facility and the Global Index Insurance Facility.

The Marsabit District alone is home to some 86 thousand cattle and 2 million goats and sheep that generate millions of dollars in milk and other products and serve as the main source of sustenance and income. ILRI estimates that up to one-third of all livestock in the region have perished during the current drought.

In East Africa, an estimated 70 million people live in the drylands, and many of them are herders. In Kenya, the value of the pastoral livestock sector is estimated to be worth USD800 million. And the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa, which takes a regional approach to combating drought in six countries of the Horn, estimates that over 90% of the meat consumed in East Africa comes from pastoral herds.

Under the terms of the policy, insured herders are compensated for any losses above 15%, with the 15% threshold acting as a sort of deductible. For example, a cattle herder who lives in an area with a livestock mortality rate of 33% receives a payout covering 18% of his or her animals. With cattle valued at about 15,000 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) per head (about USD150), an insurance policy covering 10 animals, or Kshs150,000 in cattle, would pay out at about Kshs27,000 (about USD270).

When the 15% deductible is factored in, compensation ranges from 3% in areas where the drought has been more moderate to 18% in the areas where herders were hit particularly hard. But in an indication of the severity of the drought, all of the areas where the policies were sold have exceeded the 15%mortality threshold that triggers a payout. Thus far, the policies cover about 1,100 animals—mostly cattle, but some goats and sheep and a few camels as well.

The payments are being dispatched in the middle of a humanitarian crisis endangering 12 million people in the Horn that is prompting a call for new ways to manage food security risks in East Africa’s arid drylands. For example, a recent report from ILRI has found that the pastoral approach to livestock production, in which herders make do with marginal lands by regularly moving their herds, could be very effective at averting weather-related food shortages. ILRI experts say that in arid and semi-arid regions, keeping livestock can be a more effective coping strategy than cultivating crops—if herders have options for reducing their vulnerability to drought.

‘Drought insurance is one important way to help livestock keepers maintain food security even in very harsh environments,’ said Andrew Mude, the IBLI project leader at ILRI. ‘Insurance is not by itself sufficient,’ he added, ‘But if it is accompanied by other risk-reducing strategies, such as better access to grazing lands and watering areas, then the pastoralist approach, which some people dismiss as a backward lifestyle of the past, emerges as a very effective way to meet future food needs.’

Mude said that it is too early to tell just how the payouts from the policies will affect food security and other welfare indicators. For example, it’s not yet clear how many herders will use the compensation to replace animals lost to the drought. But Mude said one major success thus far is that the livestock mortality index that is at the heart of the program appears to be working. The fatality rate predicted by the satellite assessments of forage loss is tracking very closely surveys of animal deaths on the ground.

That’s crucial because using freely available satellite images of pasture lands to accurately predict animal deaths overcomes a major barrier that has bedeviled past efforts to provide livestock insurance in poor regions: the prohibitively high costs and logistics of confirming animal deaths in herds that roam across vast distances in extremely remote areas.

‘This is all still a work in progress,’ said Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI. ‘But the fact that our relatively inexpensive approach to estimating livestock deaths seems to be accurate could open the door to making livestock insurance widely available in many parts of Africa.’

Going forward, experts believe a key issue will be whether livestock insurance in East Africa would be commercially viable by itself or whether its ability to protect herders from the impact of prolonged drought might justify some level of financial support from governments or donors, as agricultural insurance programs in Western countries often do.

‘This is asset insurance for animals that are the centerpiece of livelihoods, providing a stream of income and nutrition for years and years,’ said Mude. ‘The investment in insurance=based asset safety nets protecting these herds could have a more cost-effective welfare impact over the longer term than other forms of response such a food and cash assistance.’

‘This insurance scheme is a great example of how partnerships with the private sector can lift people out of poverty and provide long-term solutions to food crises,’ said Andrew Mitchell, the British international development secretary.

‘To many farmers, losing their cattle means losing everything, as they are not just a source of income but are their only source of food. Support from Britain and others means that more than 600 herders in Northern Kenya can buy more cattle to replace those they have lost. This means they are better able to cope with this and future devastating droughts.’

Index-based livestock insurance project in northern Kenya wins best practice award

Andrew Mude of ILRI receives IBLI award

Andrew Mude of ILRI receives the best-practice award for the Index-based Livestock Insurance project from Manfred Wiebelt, the director of PEGnet (Photo: PEGnet) 

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) led Index-based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) project in northern Kenya, which provides livestock insurance to over 2000 households in Marsabit district to help livestock herders sustain their livestock-dependent livelihoods during drought, has received a best-practice award from the Poverty Reduction, Equity and Growth Network in recognition of the project’s innovative approach of combining scientific research and practice.

The award was presented to Andrew Mude, an economist with ILRI, who also heads the Index-based Livestock Insurance project, during the Poverty Reduction, Equity and Growth Network’s conference ‘Policies to Foster and Sustain Equitable Development in Times of Crises’ held in Midrand, South Africa, on 2-3 September 2010.

Over the past two years, ILRI in collaboration with partners from Cornell University, the BASIS I4 project at the University of California – Davis, and Syracuse University, have come up with a research program that has designed and developed the insurance program. It is now being implemented by commercial partners as a market-led index-based insurance product that is protecting livestock keepers from drought-related animal losses particularly in the drought-prone arid and semi arid areas of Kenya. The program uses satellite imagery to determine and predict potential losses of livestock forage and issue insurance payouts to participating members when incidences of drought occur.

The first pilot product of this project, launched in January 2010 in Marsabit, brings together Equity Bank of Kenya, UAP Insurance and Swiss-Re as commercial partners who are running a commercially viable insurance product. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative in Africa and it holds enormous potential for benefitting livestock keepers in the region and across the continent. So far, the project has recorded over 2000 contracts covering livestock worth over US$1 million and attracting premiums of over US$77,000.

The project is expected to bring economic and social benefits to livestock keepers and protect households against drought-induced livestock losses thereby reducing their likelihood of descending into poverty. By insuring the assets of pastoralists against catastrophic losses, members will be able to come out of poverty, be protected from the risk of falling into poverty and at the same time will have opportunity to explore other activities for household economic development.

The impact of the project is currently under assessment to find out its benefits before it can be scaled up to other districts in the country. 

The Poverty Reduction, Equity and Growth Network brings together researchers with an interest in issues revolving around poverty, inequality and growth in developing countries and links them to German development policy bodies with the aim of among others, using research results for policy advice on pro-poor growth strategies.

More information about the Index-based Livestock Insurance project can be found on the project website: www.ilri.org/ibli/

The following ILRI news article shares information about the project’s launch in Marsabit:  http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/1440

To find out more about the Poverty Reduction, Equity, and Growth Network’s 2010 conference please visit http://www.pegnet.ifw-kiel.de/

ILRI, Equity Bank and UAP Insurance launch first-ever project to insure cows, camels and goats in Kenya’s arid north

Satellite images of remote African lands are used to insure herders from devastating droughts

Arid lands

Thousands of herders in arid areas of northern Kenya will be able to purchase insurance policies for their livestock, based on a first-of-its-kind program in Africa that uses satellite images of grass and other vegetation that indicate whether drought will put their camels, cows, goats and sheep at risk of starvation.

The project was announced today in northern Kenya’s arid Marsabit District by the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), microfinance pioneer Equity Bank and African insurance provider UAP Insurance Ltd.

The index-based livestock insurance program will use satellite imagery to determine potential losses of livestock forage and issue payouts to participating herders when incidences of drought are expected to occur. If successful in the Marsabit District—where few of the 86,000 cattle and two million sheep and goat populations, valued at $67 million for milk and other products, are rarely slaughtered—the program would be offered to millions of semi-nomadic pastoralists and livestock keepers in other parts of the east African region.

“Today, our agents will begin selling insurance policies backed by UAP that for the first time will provide pastoral families in Kenya’s remote Marsabit District with a simple way to reduce their drought risk —the biggest threat to their cherished herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels—from devastating lives and livelihoods,” said Equity Bank Managing Director James Mwangi. “Livestock is the key asset for families in this region and securing this asset is critical to their ability to obtain credit and investments that can allow them to grow and prosper.”

ILRI, which is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), developed the project with partners at the Ministry of Development of Northern Kenya, Cornell University, Syracuse University, the BASIS program at University of Wisconsin, and the Index Insurance Innovation Initiative. The project is funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank and Financial Sector Deepening Trust (FSD Kenya).

Insuring livestock of pastoral families has long had been considered impossible due to the formidable challenges of verifying deaths of animals that regularly are moved over vast tracts of land in search of food. ILRI and its partners have overcome this impediment by combining satellite images of vegetation in the Marsabit District with monthly surveys of livestock deaths to pinpoint the level of forage reduction that will cause animals to die. This program is different from all others because it does not pay clients based on the actual loss of their livestock assets, but rather on indicators that the animals are at risk of death.

“The reason this system can work is that getting compensation does not require verifying that an animal is actually dead,” said Andrew Mude, who is the project leader at ILRI. “Payments kick in when the satellite images, which are available practically in real time, show us that forage has become so scarce that animals are likely to perish.”

Droughts are frequent in the region—there have been 28 in the last 100 years and four in the past decade alone—and the losses they inflict on herders can quickly push pastoralist families into poverty. For example, the drought of 2000 was blamed for major animal losses in the district.

“Insurance is something of the Holy Grail for those of us who work with African livestock, particularly for pastoralists who could use insurance both as a hedge against drought—a threat that will become more common in some regions as the climate changes—and to increase their earning potential,” said ILRI Director General Carlos Seré.

The cost of the plans offered will vary depending on the number of animals and the area of coverage. The policies contain a clause akin to a deductible, in which a family would buy coverage that would pay-out when livestock losses are expected to exceed a certain level. “We believe this program has potential because it has the elements insurers need to operate, which is a well-known risk (drought), and an external indicator that is verifiable and can’t be manipulated, which in this case is satellite images of the vegetation,” said James Wambugu, Managing Director of UAP Insurance.

The data on forage availability are derived from satellite images of plant growth in the region that are part of a global survey known as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI, a database regularly updated by scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). To develop the livestock insurance program, ILRI used NDVI data collected since 1981 estimating forage availability vegetation in the Marsabit District. This information was combined with data on livestock deaths that have been collected monthly since 2000 by the Kenya Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) and USAID’s Pastoral Risk Management Project. The result is a statistical model that reliably predicts when and to what degree forage reductions will result in drought-related livestock deaths.

Given the complexity of index-based livestock insurance, ILRI and its partners have developed an insurance simulation game for local communities to explain the key features of the insurance policy and tested it across the Marsabit District. ILRI’s Mude said many of the herders who played the game became intensely involved in the simulation. “It helps them understand how insurance can protect them against losses. They also appear to simply enjoy playing the game itself, which generates a lot of animated discussion,” said Mude.

Mude said there is a potential for livestock insurance to be valuable even without a drought that triggers payments. For example, a policy could prevent stock losses by providing pastoralists the means to obtain credit for purchasing feed and drugs that would allow animals to survive the tough conditions. Similarly, pastoralists who want to expand their herds to take advantage of Africa’s rising demand for livestock products are likely to find it easier to obtain capital from private creditors now unwilling to lend due to the risks associated with droughts.

But more fundamentally, ILRI believes insurance can help avert an all too common catastrophe, and one that could occur with more regularity if climate change alters rainfall patterns in the region: droughts pushing pastoralist families into chronic impoverishment by inflicting losses from which the people cannot recover.

For further background information on project details visit the IBLI website and associates ILRI stories

Satellite images of remote African lands to be used to insure herders from devastating droughts

ILRI, Equity Bank, and UAP Insurance Launch First-ever Project to Insure Cows, Camels, and Goats in Kenya’s Arid North Thousands of herders in arid areas of northern Kenya will be able to purchase insurance policies for their livestock, based on a first-of-its-kind program in Africa that uses satellite images of grass and other vegetation that indicate whether drought will put their camels, cows, goats, and sheep at risk of starvation. The project was announced today in northern Kenya's arid Marsabit District by the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), microfinance pioneer Equity Bank and African insurance provider UAP Insurance Ltd. “The reason this system can work is that getting compensation does not require verifying that an animal is actually dead,” said Andrew Mude, who is the project leader at ILRI. “Payments kick in when the satellite images, which are available practically in real time, show us that forage has become so scarce that animals are likely to perish.” Droughts are frequent in the region—there have been 28 in the last 100 years and four in the past decade alone—and the losses they inflict on herders can quickly push pastoralist families into poverty. For example, the drought of 2000 was blamed for major animal losses in the district. “Insurance is something of the Holy Grail for those of us who work with African livestock, particularly for pastoralists who could use insurance both as a hedge against drought—a threat that will become more common in some regions as the climate changes—and to increase their earning potential,” said ILRI Director General Carlos Seré. For more information, please contact: Jeff Haskins at +254 729 871 422 or +254 770 617 481; jhaskins@burnesscommunications.com or Muthoni Njiru at +254 722 789 321 or m.njiru@cgiar.org Background Materials Project Summary