By Tsim Mavisi

In Kenya, eight out of ten farmers are smallholders. Despite the critical role they play in providing food for the nation, they face numerous challenges, among them is climate change which is increasing the incidence of pests and diseases and heightening the risk of more frequent extreme weather events, including drought and flooding.

It is for this reason that the Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise Limited (ACRE Africa) supported by Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund- a partnership between the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research- is taking action to link smallholder farmers to risk mitigation and climate adaptation solutions through a picture-based insurance project.

“Reports state that farmers lose up to 90% of their expected yield due to climate risks,” revealed Lilian Waithaka of ACRE Africa.

“Faced with such losses, many smallholder farmers are reluctant to invest in their farms. Instead, they engage in unsustainable practices to try to save money, such as keeping their children out of school, selling off productive assets and reducing the quality of their diets.”

Agricultural insurance, complemented with other risk-reducing practices, can be a sustainable approach to unlock investments in agriculture for smallholders that improve their resilience and productivity.

Crop insurance protects farmers against financial risks posed by extreme weather events and has been widely advocated as a tool to help farmer households escape poverty traps and invest in climate-smart high-productivity agriculture.

This project aims to overcome these problems through climate-smart picture-based insurance, which uses satellite and cellphone imagery to verify losses, observe management practices, and promote the adoption of productivity-enhancing and resilient technologies through advisories and bundling.

Ground pictures taken by farmers help reduce monitoring costs, minimize basis risks, and create synergies with climate-smart resilience technologies. By taking pictures of insured crops, farmers engage directly in the insurance process and improve trust and tangibility.

The project will compare the picture and satellite-based insurance with the current area and yield-based insurance and it will assess the effectiveness of increasing the productivity, resilience, and food security of women, men, and youth smallholder farmers in Kenya.

Farmers who take out picture-based insurance are also supported in other climate-related aspects. For instance, ACRE Africa continually provides farmers with training to protect their crops against climate shocks, connects them to companies that sell stress-tolerant seed varieties, and uses information services to encourage them to use good agronomic practices and to heed advisories.

ACRE Africa’s approach is proving successful. So far, the champion farmers have collected over 60,000 field images from more than 7,300 farmers who have signed up to the picture-based insurance scheme.  More than half of women farmers who are offered picture-based insurance take it up.