Nelly Bassily | October 31, 2011
Marsabit District in northern Kenya is littered with the carcasses of cattle and donkeys. The animals died because of the prolonged drought. This represents a huge loss for pastoralists. But in the midst of this loss, they received some financial relief. For the first time, the pastoralists received payouts from an innovative insurance scheme.
Halakhe Salesa Dambi is a pastoralist from Marsabit who bought the insurance. He says, “The amount of money I received, 6600 Kenyan shillings [US$66], is not that much. But it will help me support my family for everything we need for two weeks, although it can’t buy me some more cattle.”
The livestock insurance scheme compensates herders who are expected to lose more than 15% of their herd. The scheme does not count actual animal losses due to drought, but uses satellite images to assess the loss of grazing lands.
This season, satellite readings showed that up to a third of livestock in the region had been lost to drought. All areas where pastoralists purchased policies have exceeded the 15% animal loss threshold which triggers payouts. A total of 650 pastoralists have been compensated.
The insurance scheme is maintained by the International Livestock Research Institute or ILRI, and was developed with financial and academic partners. Isaac Magina is head of agriculture insurance at UAP Insurance Ltd. He says, “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.”
Most people in Marsabit District are herders. Together, they own 86,000 cattle and two million goats and sheep. In Kenya, the pastoral livestock sector is worth an estimated 800 million dollars.
Jimmy Smith is director general of ILRI. He is optimistic about the insurance scheme. But he cautions that the insurance scheme is still a work in progress. According to reports from partners on the ground, ILRI’s method of estimating livestock deaths appears to be accurate. Mr. Smith thinks that using satellite data to estimate losses could make livestock insurance more widely available in Africa.
Andrew Mude is the insurance scheme’s project leader at ILRI. He notes that insurance alone is not sufficient to help livestock keepers maintain food security. Better access to grazing land and water is also needed. But he believes pastoralism could be an effective way to meet future food needs.
Mr. Mude says it is not yet clear how the insurance payouts will affect food security. ILRI will conduct research to find out how the scheme is benefitting the households which bought insurance.
Project leaders hope they have gained the herders’ trust with the first payments. Currently, the project is funded by numerous donors. The next step looks as whether the scheme could work with commercial partners only, and how it might be scaled up.