Voice of resilience: Kenyan radio builds herders' trust in drought insurance

  • By Kagondu Njagi
  • 13/05/2019

Asma Mohamed, radio station manager at Baliti FM, works from her office in Isiolo town in northern Kenya, March 23 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kagondu Njagi


ISIOLO, Kenya - It only lasts about two and half minutes, but the brief message Asma Mohamed broadcasts on her daily radio show has become essential listening for more than half a million herders in northern Kenya.

For the past five years, station manager Mohamed has been using her show on non-profit community radio channel Baliti FM to discuss everything from good governance and livestock breeding to children's rights and challenging gender roles.

But she gets the biggest response from her listeners in Isiolo County when she talks about insuring their animals.

As a warming climate spurs more extreme weather, herders in Kenya's arid and semi-arid northern parts can lose up to 10 percent of their livestock when drought hits, according to the Pastoralist Capacity Development Programme, a local non-profit.

Pastoralists think of their animals as their "banks", Mohamed said. But figures from the state-run Kenya Livestock Insurance Programme (KLIP) show that, out of an estimated 6 million Kenyans who depend on animals for their income, only a fraction have any kind of insurance for their herds.

So Mohamed and her crew decided to devote a few minutes a day to explaining how livestock insurance works, and how it can help herders get through the worst effects of drought.

"To own livestock is not only a cultural thing, but (also) a status symbol among pastoralists," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Drought is a threat to their livelihoods. But when they have insurance, they can use the money to keep their herds alive."


Mohamed focuses on index-based livestock insurance, an innovative model being offered to Kenyan herders through KLIP.

It uses satellite imagery to measure how rangeland vegetation has been affected by drought.

Once an area gets dry enough to meet the threshold for a payout - usually based on how little pasture there is compared with seasonal records - pastoralists are compensated with cash they can use to buy food, water or medicine for their herds.

Index-based insurance is triggered earlier than traditional policies, which pay out only when an animal dies, and is designed to help farmers get through severe drought without losing livestock.

Since KLIP launched a pilot in two northern counties in 2015, around 18,000 pastoralist households have been insured through local agencies partially subsidised by the government.

Fatuma Guyo, 36, sells camel milk from a stall in Isiolo and has insured her animals ever since she first heard about the service on Baliti FM three years ago.

She did not want to give details of her policy, but said the payouts she received had eased the constant search for food for her animals.

"My family's bonds have been strengthened because there is less travelling to far lands to look for pasture," she said.

The payouts had also reduced their reliance on food relief, she added. "Life has been easier for us."

Rahab Kariuki, managing director at Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise (ACRE), a company that connects farmers with insurers, said Guyo's story was typical, with many families needing less food aid after signing up to livestock insurance.

They can also diversify their diet by buying nutritious food like greens and fruit, no longer relying only on the grains and flour supplied by aid agencies, she added.


Bashir Mohamed, CEO of the development arm of Takaful Insurance of Africa (TIA), a provider working with KLIP, said his company had seen a dramatic rise in the number of pastoralists taking up insurance over the past few years.

And he credits Baliti FM with helping spread the word.

When TIA first launched its own index-based livestock insurance a decade ago, the company had an average of just one customer for every square kilometre in northern Kenya, he said.

Then Baliti FM started addressing the issue on air, and now TIA has 20 times as many customers.

Since 2013, more than 155,000 animals have been covered under TIA's insurance scheme, according to company data.

In that time, it has paid out more than 60 million Kenyan shillings (about $600,000).

But in a country where livestock contributes more than 40 percent of agricultural GDP, according to the government, the TIA official sees a long way to go before all Kenya's herds are covered.

Rough terrain, lack of internet and weak phone services make it difficult for insurance agents to reach and stay in touch with potential customers in rural areas, he said.

"Our agents often go out to look for pastoralists grazing their herds in the bush. There are no proper roads and communication network signals are very poor," he explained.

Another challenge is the general mistrust of insurance companies among rural communities, he added.

When insurance agents approach potential customers, the farmers "cannot understand why they should peg their herds to something they cannot see or touch", and want to know what the agents are getting out of it, he said.


At Baliti FM, the station regularly gets calls from farmers worried about whether insurance is a safe way to spend their money, broadcaster Asma Mohamed said.

Easing their suspicions was a key reason why she decided to give the issue special attention on air.

As a member of the Borana tribe, who live in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, she has seen firsthand how destructive drought can be.

"When there is drought and the people lose their livestock, there is a feeling of doom within the community," she said.

She feels a responsibility to grow the station's reach beyond Isiolo and neighbouring counties, so she can help more farmers across the region find ways to save their livelihoods.

"I would like to see us reaching all the marginalised people in northern Kenya," she said. "With the proper communication network, this can be achieved."

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