Skip to main content

Farmers’ smart insurance protects against climate shocks


With the help of images taken via satellite and smartphones, Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise Limited’s (ACRE Africa) picture-based insurance project is making smart insurance accessible to Kenya’s smallholder farmers. Doing so helps to build awareness and trust around insurance-based products while enhancing resilience to challenges posed by climate-related shocks.

In Kenya, 80% of farmers are smallholders. Despite the critical role they play in providing food for the nation, they face numerous challenges. The effects of climate change are increasing the incidence of pests and diseases and heightening the risk of more frequent extreme weather events, including drought and flooding. “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,” Waithaka shared.

Hurdles to overcome

Insurance can help cushion smallholder farmers from crop and financial losses that occur due to climate change, yet many are reluctant to invest in such schemes. According to Waithaka, there are three main prohibiting factors:

  • Affordability — traditional insurance schemes are too costly for smallholder farmers;
  • Trust — a lack of trust in insurance products among farmers prevents them from securing insurance premiums; and
  • Isolated approach — farmers rarely engage with other technologies and practices that support resilience (such as planting stress-tolerant crop varieties, adhering to advisories and implementing good agronomic practices).

Through their innovative insurance offering, the team at ACRE Africa — supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund, a partnership between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research — is taking action “to link smallholder farmers to risk mitigation and climate adaptation solutions so they can comfortably invest in their farms,” revealed Waithaka.

John Poi Namanjelie applies fertilizer to his insured crops.
Georgina Smith
John Poi Namanjelie applies fertilizer to his insured crops.

Counting the payoffs

“The picture-based insurance project offers farmers an affordable, innovative, inclusive, climate-smart agriculture solution,” Waithaka said. It’s also easy to join. Farmers simply dial a USSD code and choose the type of crop they want to cover, after which they are automatically enrolled.

To support the uptake of picture-based insurance and enhance trust levels around insurance, ACRE Africa also established a network of “champion farmers” in Kenya. These individuals, two-thirds of whom are women, are “key opinion shapers in the villages in which they reside,” explained Waithaka. It was found that female champions are more likely to successfully recruit new women farmers to the picture-based insurance scheme.

Imagery is at the heart of the picture-based insurance approach. Photographs of farmers’ crops are collected using satellites and smartphones. Champion farmers use an app called SeeItGrow to “take images of registered farmers’ crops throughout the season, which are then used in the evaluation process at the end of the season,” Waithaka said.

The project has developed three machine-learning models to help process the images, classifying crops according to their growth stage and the type and extent of damage. At the end of the season, a panel of experts comprising insurance companies and agronomists evaluate the images to give them a “score” that forms the basis from which farmers can make claims.

Building resilience

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.

Mary Nasimitu is a champion farmer and intercrops maize and beans.
Georgina Smith
Mary Nasimitu is a champion farmer and intercrops maize and beans.

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, including Elizabeth, a 42-year-old mother of three living in Machakos County. “In 2021, she took out insurance cover by paying a premium of USD 2,” shared Waithaka. Following a drought later that year that saw many farmers lose their crops, “Elizabeth was able to get USD 15 in compensation through her insurance, which she used to buy three bags of seeds to plant the following season.”

While ACRE Africa is keen to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, they’re also aware of the project’s impact on a larger scale. “By helping build their resilience,” stated Waithaka, “we’re not only supporting individuals, but also trying to foster economic growth and food security.”

The picture-based insurance project was developed and implemented by a consortium of organizations: the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, ACRE Africa, the International Food Policy Research Institute and Wageningen University and Research, among other stakeholders.

Read more about this project

Learn more about the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund