News and knowhow for farmers

Insurer unveils innovative picture-based insurance service for farmers 

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By George Munene

Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise Ltd (ACRE Africa), is spearheading smart insurance for Kenya’s smallholder farmers through Picture Based Insurance (PBI) insurance. This will enable farmers to access insurance courtesy of images taken via satellite and smartphones. 

According to Worldbank estimates only about 1 per cent of African farmers are insured. Despite the continent having 17 per cent of the world’s pastures and arable land, data from the center for financial inclusion shows the value of premiums for agricultural insurance in Africa represents less than 0.7 per cent of the world’s total.

The PBI project offers farmers an affordable, innovative, inclusive, climate-smart agriculture solution. It’s 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 in the scheme.

Farmers pay insurance premiums right before planting at the beginning of long and short rains. This enables crop monitoring in case of extreme weather events.

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To support PBI uptake and enhance trust levels around insurance, ACRE Africa has also established a network of ‘champion farmers in Kenya. These individuals are “key opinion shapers in the villages in which they reside,” explained Waithaka. Two-thirds of champions are women – and it’s been found that female champions are more likely to successfully recruit new women farmers to the PBI scheme.

ACRE Africa’s approach is proving successful. So far, the champion farmers have collected over 60,000 field images from over 7,300 farmers signed up for the PBI scheme. Of women farmers offered PBI, over half 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 US$2,” shared ACRE Africa’s Lilian Waithaka. Following a drought later that year, which saw many farmers lose their crops, “Elizabeth was able to get US$15 in compensation through her insurance – which she used to buy three bags of seeds to plant the following season.”

At the heart of the PBI approach lies imagery, with photographs taken of farmers’ crops collected using satellites and smartphones – with champion farmers using 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,” revealed Waithaka.

The project which is supported by the International Development Centre (IDRC) in partnership with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has developed three different machine learning models to help process the images collected, classifying crops according to their growth stage, type of damage, and extent of the damage. At the end of the season, a panel of experts – comprising insurance companies and agronomists – evaluate the images to give them a ‘score’, which forms the basis from which farmers can make claims.

Smallholder farmers, who make up 80 per cent of Kenyan farmers, traditionally have low crop yields. Climate change is not only increasing the incidence of pests and diseases but heightening the risk of more frequent extreme weather events, including drought and flooding. “Reports state farmers lose up to 90 per cent of their expected yield due to climate risks,” stated Waithaka.

Despite this, insurance,  which can help cushion smallholder farmers from crop and financial losses that occur as a result of climate change remain underutilised by these farmers.

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According to Waithaka, the three main prohibiting factors include: 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 an Isolated approach: farmers often do not engage with other technologies and practices that can support resilience, such as the planting of stress-tolerant crop varieties, adherence to advisories, and implementing good agronomic practices.

The team at ACRE Africa is taking action “to link smallholder farmers to risk mitigation and climate adaptation solutions so they can comfortably invest in their farms,” revealed Waithaka.

Farmers who take out PBI are also supported in other climate-related aspects. For instance, ACRE Africa continually provides farmers with training on how 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 adhere to good agronomic practices and advisories. “By helping build the resilience of smallholder farmers,” stated Waithaka, “we’re supporting individuals but also trying to foster economic growth and food security.”


ACRE Africa: Ground Floor, Zep Re Place, Longonot Place, Upper Hill Nairobi

                      +254 719 249 615/ +255 767 200 012

                      [email protected]

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