Satellites boost new crop insurance programme in Rwanda

by Aimable Twahirwa | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 12 May 2013 23:30 GMT

An insured farmer in Rusatira, Rwanda, shows off her maize crop. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Aimable Twahirwa

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Aim is to help small farmers deal with worsening extreme weather, from drought to heavy rains

RUSATIRA, Rwanda (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Rwandan government has introduced a crop insurance scheme for farmers, backed up by satellite weather stations to monitor the precise impacts of drought and heavy rains on farming.

The programme is aimed at small-scale farmers like Anisia Nyirabahutu, from the village of Rusatira in the south of this Central African country. Nyirabahutu is one of many battling severe drought, which experts ascribe to the effects of climate change.

For the past decade, as weather patterns have shifted in the region, she has prayed that her maize crop would be spared from extreme weather.

“During some periods rainfall was limited and irregular, and we were facing many challenges to grow crops,” said the mother of three, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In late 2012, the government, in cooperation with the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture introduced an indexed insurance programme for farmers. Known as “Kilimo Salama” (‘safe insurance’ in Kiswahili), the scheme uses satellite stations to monitor how rainfall variability and drought affect crop production.

The government hopes to enrol many small-scale farmers in the insurance so that they will be eligible for compensation at the end of each growing season for any losses incurred due to severe weather, said Belise Mugwaneza, a consultant at Syngenta, an international organisation that is helping to administer the new policies. The organisation is a charitable arm of Syngenta, an agri-business giant that produces farm chemicals, seeds and farm biotechnology products.


Under the scheme, the Rwandan government distributes on credit seed bought from local producers and importers, through its Crop Intensification Programme. According to Cor Oudes, a senior official at One Acre Fund/Tubura, an international NGO working with groups of insured farmers, the programme also distributes chemical fertilizers to participants and emphasizes training in various farming methods.

“Without training, the insurance companies would never have insured the fertilizers, as the risks of mis-harvest increase if farmers don't know how to use them,” he explained.

The insurance itself is provided by local insurance firms, while reinsurance for their risks is guaranteed by Swiss-Re, a global re-insurer.

Nine fully automated weather stations are intended to give local insurers and international reinsurers confidence in the reliability of local weather assessments.

The stations measure rainfall, temperature, wind speed and sunlight. The data are used to determine whether a specific plot of land has been negatively affected by drought or heavy rainfall.

Despite the planning, some intended beneficiaries of the new insurance scheme are concerned about the costs involved, the level of coverage, and the procedure for making claims.

Farmers are required to buy group insurance, and premiums vary depending on the location and size of their land, ranging from about 6 percent to 12 percent of a farmer’s costs for seed, fertiliser and other imputs, according to Mugwaneza.


Nyirabahutu worries that some investments made by small-scale farmers, such as labour costs, are not covered under the new policies.

“We were happy when the government and its partners introduced this insurance scheme for farmers, but still compensation does not fully cover all aspects of all inputs,” she said. “We are still facing a challenge to meet our basic needs.”

Before insured farmers can qualify for a payout, the ministry of agriculture, in partnership with Syngenta Foundation and local insurance companies, assesses the data provided by the stations. Payouts are made to farmers based on the stations’ measurements, comparisons with weather records over the previous 15 years and a predefined formula of the rainfall that crops require during the growing season.

Some farmers are concerned that this approach makes it difficult to know in advance whether their particular plot is likely to qualify for compensation.

Nevertheless, an estimated 12,000 farmers have been insured in Rwanda since the scheme began, and the government aims to ensure a further 1,000 this year. Following heavy rains and drought in the country’s South and Western provinces between May and September 2012, payments totalling $10,000 have been made to 1,600 farmers, although the total number of claims made was not available.

“The implementation of satellite stations to monitor weather impacts is good news for the farming community in Rwanda,” said Mugwaneza.

Aimable Twahirwa is a science journalist based in Kigali with a special interest in climate-related issues and agriculture.

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