Ethiopian farmers get a payout, easing effects of drought

By Oxfam America
Gebre Kiros Teklehaimanot was among the 1,891 farmers in Tigray who received one of the first payments from a weather insurance policy for crops.

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A devastating drought is now plaguing parts of Ethiopia, but for farmers like Gebre Kiros Teklehaimanot who are participating in a new insurance initiative, the payment they received this month—the first in the program’s history—has softened the blow.

Teklehaimanot  is part of an Oxfam America program called HARITA, or Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation, that has designed a way for the country’s poorest farmers to get weather insurance for their crops, allowing more than 13,000 this year to buy themselves and their families a rare bit of security. For 1,810 farmers in seven villages hit hardest by the drought, each will now get a share of the total $17,392 in payouts.

“Last season the rain was bad and we didn’t produce what we had hoped for,” said Teklehaimanot. “So the payment is good for us. We know it won’t cover all our losses, but for me, at least, I can cover the loan I took to buy fertilizers.”

Launched in 2008 with a host of partners including the Relief Society of Tigray, the program aims to build the resilience of farmers by offering not only insurance, but increasing access to credit, encouraging savings, and reducing the risk of climate change through improved land-management practices.

“The project is beyond giving emergency aid. It increases the confidence of farmers and encourages them to take risk to improve their productivity,” said Gezachew Gebru, a representative from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture. “We need to do more to encourage others to join this effort and make insurance available to all farmers.”

Celebrating a milestone

The payout announced on Saturday, Nov. 12, represents an important milestone for the initiative which, in partnership with the World Food Programme, is set to expand into Senegal and two other countries. Triggered when rainfall dropped below a pre-determined threshold, the payout is the first participating farmers have received since the program began, proving the value of investing in the future.

For Haile Selasse Negash, a 48-year-old farmer from the village of Getskymilesily, the payout has meant he can look ahead and plan—something that might not have been possible had he lost all his assets to drought, as so many have in recent months. Across East Africa, more than 13 million people are ensnared by the drought and food crisis.

“Last season it started raining and it stopped all of a sudden. We didn’t get rain for a full month and that damaged our crops,” said Negash. “With the money I get I am planning to buy seed for the next season.”

Work for insurance

And it’s not just the payout Negash is happy about; it’s what the program is doing for his community.

“For me, the major benefit is not the money we receive but the work we are doing to recover and protect our environment through those paying for the insurance with labor,” he said.

A key innovation of the initiative is making it possible for the poorest farmers—those without cash—to trade their labor for their premiums. Of the 13,195 farmers now insured, 91 percent of them, or 12,064, are working on projects that can strengthen their communities in the face of climate change, such as planting trees and improving irrigation.

“What we really like to see is farmers increase productivity through climate adaption and improved production technologies,” said Mandefro Nigussie,  deputy regional director  of Oxfam America’s Horn of Africa office. “The biggest actors in this are the farmers and the insurance companies. The two have to work together to determine the best working conditions that will benefit both. We all know that insurance by itself is not the answer, but it plays a big role on contributing towards the growth of the country’s economy.”

This story was reported by Selome Kebede.