Livestock insurance in face of climate crisis: farmers enroll on pilot project

Published by:
Focus Region:
Sub-Saharan Africa
Focus Topic:
Climate / Weather / Environment

IT is now overwhelmingly convincing that climate change is real; that it will become worse, and the poorest and most vulnerable people will be the worst affected.
Many organisations, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) acknowledge climate change as one of the factors affecting rural poverty.

The two United Nations sister agencies whose interest hugely hinge on ensuring food security, have partnered with the Zambian Government to support the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock to design and pilot the first hybrid livestock insurance product for asset protection for 5, 000 cattle and goat smallholder farmers.

The product consists of a normalised difference vegetation index and ground observation mortality index that inform asset protection compensation payments. The index covers various districts in the Northern, Muchinga, Southern and Eastern provinces.

While climate change is a global phenomenon, its negative impacts are more severely felt by poor people in developing countries – Zambia alike, who rely heavily on the natural resource base for their livelihoods.

Rural poor communities rely greatly for their survival on agriculture and livestock keeping that are amongst the most climate sensitive economic sectors.

In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by 2100, the increase in global average surface temperature may be between 1.8 degrees Celsius and 4.0 degrees Celsius.

With increases of 1.5 degrees Celsius to 2.5 degrees Celsius, approximately 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species are expected to be at risk of extinction with severe consequences for food security in developing countries.

Norman Nkunika is a farmer in Lundazi District. Apart from crops, the 43-year-old father of four is also into livestock farming.

At his farm in Chief Mwase’s  M’zamu village, Mr Nkunika has 15 goats, 13 cattle and over 80 birds that include guinea fowls, free range  and broiler chickens.

He recalls how tough the 2020/2021 farming season was for him and other farmers in the area. “We didn’t have a lot of rain here,” he says.

According to him, when every other part of the country was getting rains in October and November, farmers in the district had to wait until January and early February to have rains.

“You can imagine the pressure we had here. Look at the animals I have, there are a lot and without rain, it means they are at risk of dying,” he says.

Luckily, he never lost any animals or suffered any serious losses, but other farmers did.

“I was just fortunate that I never lost any of my animals during that period, otherwise some farmers did, especially goats,” he said.

As a stopgap measure, Mr Nkunika and many other farmers in the district received payouts ranging from K250 to K1000 as compensation for their loss and inconvenience that may have affected their livestock due to climate change.

Elijah Mbewe, also a farmer in Lundazi, is equally excited about the insurance scheme.

His only plea is that it is expanded to cover things like livestock diseases, thefts, and deaths.

“This one is just limited to climate change related causes. It is a very good initiative which we are willing and are more than ready to take up even after the pilot project comes to a close. From the payout, most of us bought feed supplements for our livestock,” he says.

Mr Mbewe, who is married with three children, says it is from his livestock and farming activities that he takes care of his family. “I have about 50 herds of cattle and 32 goats. I also have chickens that I sell from time to time to get us going,” he says.

He advises other farmers to continue working together and improve on communal animal grazing areas. “Let us also learn how to make supplementary animal feed. It is cheaper that way,” he says.

The index based livestock insurance is a comprehensive cover that protects pastoralists when their land for grazing is not sufficient, often due to drought or delayed rains, keeping their animals alive.

In Chasefu, a district that until 2018 was part of Lundazi, the situation is not any different. The farming community there has had to grapple with their own share of climate change-induced challenges.

At Bwekka Farm, in Chief Phikamalaza’s area is 48-year-old Modester Nyirenda Lungu.  Apart from growing crops, Ms Lungu and her husband are also livestock farmers.

“At first, when we heard about the scheme, we thought it was just a hoax. We thought that these people just wanted to dupe us of our money. We then later came to realise that it was real and a legitimate gesture from the Government and its partners to come to our aid in their own small way,” she says.

For Ms Lungu who received a payout of K375, she is ready to continue with the scheme even when the pilot project comes to an imminent end.

“You see, because of the bad rains, we did not have any grazing area for our animals. This affected us very much. Everything we do around here is connected to livestock in one way or the other,” she said.

This insurance covers the value of feed required to keep livestock alive for the duration of the cover. It covers shortfalls in the evolution of the pasture rangeland coefficient in respect to pasture rangeland coefficient triggers defined for each of the unit areas of insurance.

The shortfalls in the evolution of the pasture rangeland coefficient in respect to pasture rangeland coefficient thresholds are closely and causally related with shortages in pasture rangeland production that are caused by one or combined action of climatic, natural, and or biological risks such as delayed rainfall as was the case for Lundazi and Chasefu, drought, fire, widespread destruction due to pests and diseases.

The coverage period is divided into 10-day periods. At the end of each 10-day period, the index measurements for each unit area of insurance are assessed before pastoralists receive compensation, depending on the index measurement.

The quarterly payouts are delivered by mobile money in January, April, July and October.

WFP Country Representative Cissy Byenkya notes that with increasing occurrences of climate change effects such as droughts, extreme high temperatures and floods in Zambia, her organisation has taken deliberate effort through partnerships with the Government to strengthen the resilience of livestock smallholder farmers by supporting them to protect their livestock through insurance.

“Livestock index insurance is a key mechanism for protecting smallholder farmers’ livestock such as goats and cattle from the effects of climate change,” she said.

Ms Byenkya adds: “WFP is happy to have partnered with the Government, IFAD and insurance companies in 2021 in designing and piloting the livestock insurance, enabling 5,000 smallholder farmers to cover their livestock against the partial droughts experienced during the 2021/2022 farming seasons which affected the growth of pasture in the grazing land and limited the livestock’s access to feed.”

Clearly, the possible effects of climate change on food production are not limited to crops and agricultural production alone. Climate change will have far-reaching consequences for livestock, mainly arising from its impact on grassland and rangeland productivity.

Heat distress suffered by animals will reduce the rate of animal feed intake and result in poor growth performance whereas lack of water and increased frequency of drought in certain countries will lead to a loss of resources.

For rural communities, losing livestock could trigger a collapse into chronic poverty and have a lasting effect on food security and livelihoods.

Originally published in the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper of Wednesday, July 27, 2022.
Ndangwa Mwittah