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Innovative micro-insurance program expands to protect Kenyan farmers from drought

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UAP Insurance, Syngenta Foundation, Safaricom expand insurance plan to cover value of farm harvests, more crops to provide safety net for Kenya farmers

KITALE, KENYA (25 February 2011)—With Kenyan farmers increasingly fearing massive weather-related losses, UAP Insurance, Syngenta Foundation and mobile operator Safaricom announced today a major expansion of Kilimo Salama, an innovative and affordable crop insurance program that will now cover the expected value of farm harvests, more crops and many more farmers against drought and flooding, while also protecting against livestock losses.

The new program, called Kilimo Salama Plus, builds on the original Kilimo Salama—Kiswahili for “safe farming”—which was launched last year. It uses a low-cost mobile phone payment and data system that is linked to solar-powered weather stations to issue an insurance policy and rapidly compensate farmers for investments in seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs that are lost to either insufficient or excessive rains.

Kilimo Salama Plus retains this innovative approach while expanding from the initial focus to go beyond just inputs to give farmers the opportunity to insure the value of their harvest. In addition, due to high demand, farmers can now insure a wider array of crops including maize, wheat, beans, and sorghum.

Kilimo Salama Plus is available to farmers in the productive breadbasket regions of Southern Nyanza, covering Oyugis and Homa Bay, Busia and Northern Rift, including Kitale and Eldoret, as well as Embu and Nanyuki.

UAP Insurance Managing Director James Wambugu said that Kilimo Salama Plus had expanded the range of crops under cover due to rising popularity of its affordable and easily-dispensable nature.

“It also follows our drive to simplify insurance and in the process expand access to more crop and livestock farmers,” he explained.

“Agricultural insurance is particularly important in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa today as the extreme weather patterns generated by climate change are introducing greater volatility to food production and food prices,” said Dr. Wilson Songa, Agriculture Secretary of the Minister of Agriculture, during the launch ceremony in Kitale today.

Expounding on the successes of the initial program, Marco Ferroni, Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation, said, “We have seen 12,000 farmers in Kenya take advantage of the original Kilimo Salama and we should be able to reach 50,000 farmers with Kilimo Salama Plus this year and provide far more insurance options.”

“We have quickly seen this initiative grow from a small pilot program in 2009 to become the largest agricultural insurance program in Africa and the first to use mobile phone technology to speed access and payouts to rural farmers,” he added.

Just as they did with the original program, farmers purchase Kilimo Salama Plus through local agro-dealers, who use a camera phone to scan a special bar code that sends the policy to UAP over Safaricom’s mobile data network. This innovative mobile phone application, which was developed by the Syngenta Foundation, then sends a text (SMS) message to the farmer’s mobile phone confirming the insurance policy.

Payouts are determined by data collected through 30 weather stations in the targeted regions that have been renovated with automated, solar-powered systems capable of broadcasting regular updates on weather conditions and rainfall quantities occurring near individual farms. When data from a particular station, which is transmitted over Safaricom’s 3G data network, indicates that drought or other extreme conditions (including excessive rains) are destined to reduce yields, all farmers registered with that station automatically receive payouts.

The payments are sent directly to a farmer’s mobile phone via Safaricom’s popular M-PESA mobile money transfer service. Using M-PESA combined with the automated weather stations allows farmers to quickly collect payouts with virtually no claims process and no need for an agent to visit the farm to confirm losses.

“M-PESA is already a well-established and trusted system for conducting money transfers in rural Kenya and our network has more than enough capacity to provide greater access to the Kilimo Salama Plus program,” said Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore. “It is exciting to see how the rapid uptake of mobile phone technology in Kenya, bolstered by Safaricom’s pioneering investment in M-PESA and a robust data network running on Kenya’s only 3G platform, is being used to deal with the weather uncertainties that are a major cause of food insecurity among some Kenyan families.”

Included in the program is a helpline funded by the Syngenta Foundation that is staffed by agriculture experts from Safaricom offering farmers free advice on how to improve production and protect their investments. Sixteen thousand Kenyan farmers already have used the helpline.

Crop insurance has long been used in developed countries to deal with such weather uncertainties, but its availability in Africa, particularly to smallholder farmers, has been extremely limited. Many areas of Kenya received far less rain during the “short-rain” season that runs from October to December and there are concerns that weather patterns now developing—particularly a cooling of Pacific Ocean waters known as “La Niña”—could curtail precipitation throughout 2011. Kilimo Salama partners expect for some registered farmers in parts of Embu, Nyanza, and Nanyuki to receive payouts for drought-related losses.

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Kilimo Salama (“Safe Agriculture”) is a pay-as-you-plant insurance program for Kenyan farmers to insure their farm inputs against drought and excess rain. The program, which is a partnership between Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, UAP Insurance, and Safaricom, uses a low-cost mobile phone payment and data system that is linked to solar powered weather stations to issue insurance policies and rapidly compensate farmers for investments in seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs that are lost due to either insufficient or excessive rains. Kilimo Salama is supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture.