What is more devastating for a farmer than a drought that strikes at a time crops are just beginning to bloom? Pretty nothing else.

For Dorcas Nyawira, a 32-year-old mother of one, watching her two-acre plantation of maize dry away was gut-wrenching. The rains failed in Nyeri during the last maize-planting season, spelling doom for many farmers who hoped for a bountiful harvest. But just as she was contemplating her loss, Nyawira received a call. The caller informed her that they had reimbursed the money she had used to buy the maize seed and had remitted it to her M-Pesa account.

“I could not believe it. I was so shocked. But when I checked my M-Pesa, I found that they had indeed refunded the money,” she says. “I do not even know how they found out that my maize crop had failed because I did not tell them. They just knew.” That call came from the Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise Ltd (Acre Africa). The organisation helps farmers insure their farm products. Nyawira had just benefited from one of their products referred to as Replanting Guarantee.

“When a farmer buys certified seeds insured by Acre Africa, they find a card inside the bag of seeds. This card is tracked and sends back information on the location of the farm to our systems when the bag of seeds is opened,” says Dr Wilson Songa, a senior advisor in Strategy and Partnerships at the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture.

Syngenta has partnered with Acre Africa on this initiative.

“Once the farmer finds the card inside, he or she has the choice to register for insurance of the crop or not. If the farmer chooses not to register, the tracking ends there. But if they do, we monitor the weather to determine how the crop is doing from planting to the harvesting stage,” he says. If the crop is affected by adverse weather such as drought, storms, flood and erratic rains and other production risks, the company reimburses the farmer through mobile money transfer to enable them buy more seed. The farmer can also receive a discount on their next seed purchase.

Dr Songa, who has been involved in the national agricultural research system for about 20 years, emphasises on the importance of insuring livestock as well. He is also the immediate former Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development. “The farmer needs to insure their livestock from the gestation period to maturity,” he says. “Leveraging on the technology systems available today, it becomes much cheaper for farmers to do this and reap the maximum benefits for their efforts.” Farmers can insure their livestock through dairy co-operative societies as Acre Africa provides insurance by working with such aggregators to reach farmers.

The farmer has the choice to insure whatever number of livestock they want, from a single cow to an entire herd.

“Every insured cow is marked and we track its progress. When the cow has a problem, we get a signal and the information goes to the nearest veterinary doctor in the area. The vet will visit the farm and assess the condition of the animal, take pictures and send the information back to us,” he says. The company helps the farmer cover the costs depending on the problem. Should sudden death occur, the dairy insurance product covers some causes of death up to 80 per cent of the insured cow’s resale value. But Nyawira had not bought the seed because of the insurance. “I just saw the maize on my friend’s farm and it was doing so well that I decided that I would plant that seed next time on my farm,” she says. While her casual decision to register almost as an afterthought saved her harvest, the government is hoping that it will become more commonplace for farmers to insure their crops and livestock. In November last year, the government announced a plan to begin a programme to facilitate this.

This is because with the current climate change, weather is becoming more and more unpredictable, posing a challenge to the livelihood of small-scale farmers and food security in the country. “The World Trade Organisation (WTO) regulations generally forbid governments from subsidising agriculture directly. However, they permit the subsidisation of agricultural insurance premiums,” states a document from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

To encourage farmers to insure their crop and livestock, the plan by the government is to work with insurance companies and surveyors so it can pay half the cost, while the farmer pays the other half, making it cheaper for farmers. “This announcement was very encouraging and the government should be commended for this because it makes it cheaper for the farmer and encourages investment in agriculture. “The more farmers insure their crops, the cheaper the insurance premiums become and with time it will become so cheap that the government will pull out and it will still be affordable for any farmer,” says Dr Songa.

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