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The journal ‘Science’ publishes Q&A with Borlaug Field Award winner Andrew Mude

'Maasai herding', by Kahare Miano

‘Maasai herding’, painting by Kahare Miano (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

A Kenyan economist has won the 2016 Norman Borlaug Award
from the World Food Prize for an innovative program
that provides pastoralists with livestock insurance.

Andrew Mude, a senior economist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), created a program that protects pastoralists against losses from drought, an increasing scourge for nomadic communities in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. The index-based insurance uses satellite imagery revealing how much foliage has been lost to calculate the projected impact on the herds. It eliminates the need for an actual census of dead animals.

More than 3 million pastoralist households in northern Kenya depend on goats, cows, sheep, and camels, and the high rate of livestock losses during droughts is a major cause of childhood malnutrition. With their households constantly on the move, the payments give families enough money to survive economic downturns without having to sell off their herds. Foreign aid programs from several nations help subsidize the cost of the insurance.

Mude, 39, says his interest in finding new tools for economic development
comes from his parents, the first boy and girl from the Marsabit district
of northern Kenya to attend high school and who later
helped other villagers acquire an education.

‘The Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, announced on 30 August, honors a young scientist who exemplifies Borlaug’s commitment to applying basic research to help herders around the world. Mude earned his Ph.D. at Cornell University before returning to Africa and joining ILRI in 2006. Mude spoke with ScienceInsider shortly after the news was announced. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

‘. . . While conducting research on the region’s vulnerability to climate change, we discovered that 75% of these communities depended on livestock for their livelihood. The biggest challenge these communities face is drought-related mortality. The poorest and most vulnerable communities are hardest hit by regular droughts because they depend on livestock for milk, meat, and money. We wanted to provide an instrument that reduces the likelihood of livestock mortalities and reduces poverty.

‘. . . We are using satellite readings called the Normalized Differen[ce] Vegetation Index to calculate the level of greenness and how much foliage is available in an area. Once the foliage disappears, we get an index. We use this data to predict the number of livestock that will be affected, which triggers a payment to the herders.

‘. . . We have been tracking 925 households in Marsabit County since 2009. In those cases, 36% of insured households are less likely to sell their livestock in distress [than their peers without insurance] and 25% are less likely to reduce food intakes for children. Over 11,500 households have already bought insurance. The Kenyan government has already provided 5000 free contracts to herders in Wajir and Turkana counties and hopes to add about 9000 households by October.

‘. . . We . . . hope to expand the program and have identified communities in Somalia, Mali, and Senegal. . . .’

Read the whole article by Sophie Mbugua in ScienceQ&A: Livestock insurance helps African herders survive droughts, 2 Sep 2016.

More news clippings of the announcement that Andrew Mude won the 2016 Norman Borlaug Field Award

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Speeches | Nairobi, Kenya – Embassy of the United States
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Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu, Dr. Andrew Mude, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, hamjambo.  Habari zenu? Thank you for inviting me here today. It’s always rewarding to spend time talking with and learning from researchers who are passionate about their disciplines.

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