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Why women are among the best clients for livestock insurance in East Africa

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The Index Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) programme was first launched in 2010, to help pastoralists deal with the effects of the severe droughts that are becoming increasingly frequent in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya and Ethiopia. The most recent figures show that some 15,000 livestock owners in the two countries have now purchased the product. Perhaps surprisingly, 45% of them are women.

The high take-up of livestock insurance by women is somewhat unexpected, not least because the vast majority of livestock owners in the region are men, and women remain largely excluded from livestock ownership. The IBLI product has become increasingly popular in recent years, reaching a milestone in 2015, when the Government of Kenya adopted it in the form of the Kenya Livestock Insurance Programme (KLIP). But why are so many women opting to buy into the scheme?

One woman who has purchased an IBLI policy is Habiba Jattan, a livestock owner in Isiolo county, Kenya. Jattan has been an IBLI client since 2015. Initially she started with a small premium payment of 6,000 Kenyan shillings (KES, equivalent to €60), to insure three cows and three goats. The rains failed that year, and as a result she received a payout of KES 12,000 (€120), some of which she used to buy another IBLI policy for the next season. This time she insured 16 cattle and 20 goats at a cost of KES 15,040 (€130). The 2016 season saw one of the worst droughts since 2011, and Jattan received a payout of KES 150,000 (€1,500).

Jattan seems to not only understand the product – she is aware that she may not receive a payout every season – but is still keen to invest her resources in it. And there are many more women like her, who have regularly purchased IBLI since it was first launched. A study carried out in Ethiopia in 2014 showed that most of the IBLI purchasers were women-headed households, but there must be more to it than this.

Changing dynamics in pastoral regions

The truth is, we do not yet know why IBLI policies are proving so popular with women. While there is widespread experience with such index-based insurance for crops, little has been done with such insurance for livestock, so we are exploring new territory with IBLI in the drylands.

However, there are several hypotheses as to why so many women purchase livestock insurance:

  • women’s access to micro-loans enables them to access a financial service such as IBLI;
  • most women are owners of small ruminants, and therefore insure the livestock over which they have control;
  • the increasing sedentarisation of the pastoral community is compelling women to become household decision-makers.

Such conjecture is mainly the result of information and experience amassed through working in the pastoral areas. Small ruminants are generally considered as ‘petty cash’ among the pastoral community, and usually women have the liberty to sell them and products such as milk without having to consult the head of household. Cattle and camels are considered as wealth and assets, and decisions to sell are usually taken jointly, generally for special occasions or to fulfil household related needs.

However, Jattan’s case shows that women are not necessarily restricted to sheep and goats, but can own cattle and camels as well. At the same time, women are responsible for household food provision. Often, severe drought disrupts the household food system, which puts women under immense pressure to secure the food needed by their family for survival.

Need to dig deeper

Clearly there are changing dynamics which should be investigated. Other aspects that require closer examination include:

  • the socio-economic or cultural background of women purchasing IBLI;
  • the motivations and factors that made them purchase IBLI;
  • if there are specific areas or regions within the operational sites of IBLI where its uptake by women has been consistently high, and why this might be; and
  • are some of these women repeat buyers, and if so, could they become champions of IBLI and convince others (both women and men) to join them?

Answering some of these questions will be crucial to understanding the potential role of financial services such as IBLI to create resilience in the face of climate change in the drylands of Africa. IBLI has already shown great promise in Kenya and Ethiopia, and its popularity with women is encouraging. Taking this venture to the next level, and scaling it out across the Horn of Africa and beyond depends on our developing a fuller and deeper understanding of the factors that motivate livestock owners – both women and men – to invest in such insurance.

This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.

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