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Kenya - Insurers fail to tap into crop insurance as desert locusts spread

Insurers in Kenya are yet to put together a policy that can cushion farmers against losses from desert locusts currently ravaging parts of the country.

Farmers in the Rift Valley and Western regions of Kenya are currently preparing for the planting season, which could largely be impacted by the invasion of desert locusts.

This could, in turn, pose a major threat to Kenya’s food security with the insects capable of destroying at least 200 tonnes of vegetation per day.

BIMA intermediaries chairman Washington Ndegea told the Star, underwriters were yet to capitalize on the ongoing locust invasion.

“Insurance players may be viewing this (locust invasion) as a one-off thing, especially due to the pests migratory patterns,” he said.

He added that such a product would be highly beneficial, especially to large-scale farmers, to avoid production losses.

The Association of Kenyan Insurers chief executive Tom Gichuhi told the Star he was not too sure if a firm were to come up with a locust-specific insurance policy farmers would rush to buy into it.

“The locust invasion is unlike drought or floods, it can take between 30 and 40 years before another occurrence. Who will be willing to buy into such a policy,” he said.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Kenya was last hit by a locust plague in the 1970s.

Currently, local insurers including APA, CIC, Heritage, Jubilee, Kenya Orient, and UAP, offer multi-peril micro-insurance products.

The policy is aimed at covering smallholder maize farmers for crop yields of below 80 percent of the expected harvest due to climate, disease, insect damage, and other causes.

“I am not sure whether the multi-peril products cover locusts as well,” Gichuhi told the Star.

Agriculture officials estimate that locusts in Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo, Meru, and Samburu counties have so far destroyed more than 500,000 hectares of pasture and farmland.

Entomology Society of Kenya chairman Muo Kasina estimated the total losses incurred covers 70 percent of the pasture while the remaining 30 percent is food crop losses.

The locusts have a strong preference for plants such as millet and maize, and their advance into the country’s food basket areas would be devastating.

The Insurance Regulatory Authority told the Star, they were yet to received any propositions to introduce such a product in the market by any of the local underwriters.

“We are yet to receive any new policy offerings of that nature,” IRA head of communication Noella Mutanda said, “But there are already agriculture insurance policies in the market.”

Data by the Association of Kenyan Insurers released in September shows in 2018, gross written premiums under agriculture insurance reduced to Sh716.2 million in 2018 from Sh822.7 million in 2017, a 12.95 percent drop.

Of this, crop insurance contributed 38 percent of agriculture insurance premiums while livestock insurance contributed 62 percent.

The total claims for agriculture insurance were Sh694.9 million in 2018, a 15.25 percent decline from Sh819.99 in 2017, as the country experienced better weather conditions in 2018.

As per the report, out of 52 registered AKI members, only 10 companies offer agriculture insurance.

This, despite great potential in the sector occasioned by losses from drought, floods, pests (as in the case of the locust invasion) and diseases, fires, and natural disasters, and loss through transport and storage.

Agriculture contributes 26 percent of Kenya’s GDP at Sh2.9 trillion, according to last year’s financial report.

FAO had described the infestation as “significant and extremely dangerous”, warning of an imminent “food crisis in months to come” if control measures are not taken.

The latest FAO report shows locusts will be breeding in six counties -Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu, Isiolo, Wajir, and Mandera- over the next two months.

Source – https://www.the-star.co.ke