Drought / East Africa / Event / Food Security / Geodata / ILRI / Insurance / Kenya / Pastoralism / Vulnerability

New insurance program in Kenya covers cattle lost to drought

Blind man awaits payout

A blind pastoral herder in Kenya’s Marsabit District awaits payout of an insurance premium he bought to protect his livestock against drought (photo on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).

Tristan McConnell, reporting from Nairobi, writes in the GlobalPost (Boston) yesterday of a new insurance program set up to protect a group of pastoral livestock herders in northern Kenya against losses of their livestock due to drought.

We have never experienced a season like this one,” said Boru Sora, a 25-year old herder of the Borana tribe in northern Kenya.

Sixty of our cattle died this year out of 120, 17 more were taken by raiders, but the main reason? It is hunger and weakness that kills them. It is the drought.”

‘At the center of Sora’s family compound, demarcated by thorn bushes, is a circular mud-walled hut; outside the plot, crumpled over rocks, are the desiccated carcasses of some of the family’s depleted herd, left to rot where they fell.

It is a disaster for us,” said Sora’s 56-year old father Haro, a forlorn man who lost his right eye to disease years ago. “We have no hope.”

‘Pastoralists in the Horn of Africa have been hardest-hit by the drought that is ravaging the region. More than 12 million people are short of food and in the parts of Somalia where drought has worsened into famine, 750,000 people face starvation, according to United Nations figures.

‘For semi-nomadic pastoralists, animals are everything: all the family’s wealth is tied up in the herd, which is also a source of prestige and social standing. So when their animals die, their lives are over too—at least the lives they know.

‘Although pastoralists are often the victims of government neglect and marginalization, their suffering is also a problem for non-pastoralists. Livestock from pastoralist herds is the primary source of meat in the region, and is worth around $800 million.

‘In an attempt to mitigate the disastrous effect of ever-contracting drought cycles, a new scheme called Index Based Livestock Insurance has been launched in northern Kenya, with the backing of USAID, the US government’s aid arm, and other donors.

‘People who insure their herds receive a payout when drought strikes, but because the herders are widespread across a huge territory, it is impossible to count each animal and verify whether it survived the drought or not.

‘Instead, satellite imagery is used to estimate the intensity of the drought by measuring the deterioration of grazing lands, and when a certain threshold is reached, payments are triggered.

‘Around Marsabit, payments are triggered when herders are predicted to have lost 15 percent of their herd, although this year losses are estimated to be much worse, at around 18–33 percent.

‘There were thought be around 86,000 cows and 2 million sheep and goats in Marsabit district alone. The International Livestock Research Institute, (ILRI), which is running the insurance scheme, estimates that about one-third of these have died this year, pushing pastoralists to the brink.

‘“Agricultural insurance is not new, but bringing it to a remote community in a developing country is the innovation,” said Andrew Mude, an economist at ILRI in Nairobi, who is in charge of the insurance program. “This is possible because of improved technology.

‘“Using satellites, we can verify herd losses cost-effectively,” he said before adding, “but it does lead to some understanding gaps.”

‘That lack of understanding came to the fore during a ceremony to make the first payments to insured herders who had lost animals in the drought. . . .’

Read the whole story at GlobalPost (Boston): New plan for drought victims pays out: A new insurance program covers lost cattle, the pastoralists’ currency, 15 Nov 2011.

Read ILRI’s news release on this topic: Herders in drought-stricken northern Kenya get first livestock insurance payments, 21 Oct 2011.

Visit the blog of ILRI’s collaborative Index-based Livestock Insurance project.

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