By Eric AkasaDr. Andrew Mude, an economist and principal scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), will be presented with the 2016 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application Wednesday for his work leading an innovative livestock insurance program that employs satellite data to help protect livestock herding communities in the Horn of Africa from the devastating effects of drought.
The accolade, named to honor the legendary crop scientist and Nobel Prize Winner, was presented to Mude by Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin at a special ceremony that included hundreds of agriculture experts from around the world attending the 2016 World Food Prize symposium in Iowa. The Rockefeller Foundation provides the endowment for the award, which includes US $10,000 for the winner.
“Borlaug’s footprint and legacy are immense and it’s humbling to be honored in association with him,” Mude said.
“When the World Food Prize committee selected me, I think they were celebrating a scientist who aims to emulate Borlaug’s relentless commitment to following through on his research to ensure it makes an impact in communities still struggling to achieve food security,”added Mude.
At a separate event in Des Moines, Mude and colleagues from the University of California (UC), Davis and Cornell University received the Award for Scientific Excellence from the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development (BIFAD), which is part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The award recognizes significant achievements originating from work performed through USAID’s Feed the Future Innovations Labs, which has provided support for the livestock insurance project since its inception via the BASIS Assets and Market Access Innovation Lab team now based at UC Davis.
“More than a decade of research into the conditions that contribute to poverty among pastoralist communities produced a strong set of solutions that Andrew and the rest of the BASIS team skillfully implemented in the field,” said Michael Carter, professor of agricultural and resource economics at the UC Davis. “It’s exactly the kind of work Borlaug envisioned when he urged agriculture researchers to take their solutions directly to farmers and food producers, particularly in places whether they face a daily struggle to survive.”
Mixing technology and innovation with grassroots outreach
A Kenyan native who received his Ph.D. from Cornell University, 39-year-old Mude leads a project called Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI), which is greatly reducing the vulnerability of East Africa’s livestock herding families to recurring droughts.
According to Mamadou Biteye, Managing Director The Rockefeller Foundation Africa Regional Office, with today’s changing climate, and the increasing frequency of droughts, weather-based insurance has become a critical tool in building the resilience of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. “By utilizing the most current technology, Dr. Mude’s innovation is helping livestock herders protect their livelihoods. We can provide herders with no better form of food security than by empowering them to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change,” he said.
A key feature of the program is its use of satellite data gathered every ten days by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and then processed by NASA to create a “vegetation index” that allows Mude and his colleagues to track the density of vegetation available to pastoralists in the Horn of Africa. Payouts are made to policy holders when the index shows that forage availability has declined below an agreed threshold. That’s a signal that rains have failed and drought—responsible for 75 percent of livestock deaths in the region—is at hand.
Before the innovative IBLI approach was implemented, African herders had no access to livestock insurance to protect their most valuable assets, whose losses can lead to a lifetime of poverty. Yet it was highly impractical and costly for insurance claim adjusters to travel through the vast rangelands of East Africa to confirm dead animals and pay claims. The satellite data provides a solution to that problem, its measurement of forage serving as a proxy for conditions on the ground that could imperil livestock.
“This is a much-deserved recognition that does more than just honor Andrew; it also makes a powerful statement about the importance of livestock to the food security of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people,” said ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith. “For a billion people in the world today, their livestock are their most valuable asset—an irreplaceable source of food, income and labor—and protecting them, as Andrew and his colleagues are doing, should be a high priority.”
Since launching IBLI in 2008, Mude and his team have engaged local herders and leaders in building and delivering education programs—employing videos, innovative games, cartoons, radio broadcasts and most recently mobile learning applications—to increase understanding of the principles and coverage of the insurance product. These learning tools help teach basic concepts of livestock insurance, like the fact that premiums must be paid even if grazing conditions stay healthy and no payout occurs.
“Our engagement with the community has resulted in a number of important insights leading to continued improvement of the IBLI product and the efficiency of service-delivery. For example, where payouts were previously made to replace dead livestock, they are now made when rains fail and drought appears imminent, giving herders the means to purchase feed, medicine or other inputs that will help their animals survive the drought. This is proving more effective at providing a safety net for herding households than making payouts to help replace dead animals,” explained Mude.
From a pilot project to a country-wide initiative
since 2010, when IBLI began offering insurance contracts in one county in Kenya, it has expanded across Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia; 11,750 herders in Northern Kenya (Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Garissa and Mandera counties) and 3,905 herders in Southern Ethiopia have purchased IBLI insurance contracts whereas from 2011, more than US$200,000 in payouts—US$159,000 in Kenya and US$50,000 in Ethiopia—have been triggered by poor herding conditions.
The results from the project are encouraging. For example, evidence from the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa found that households insured with IBLI were less likely to sell off livestock or reduce meals as a coping strategy. Overall, insured households are more likely to invest in veterinary services, generate greater milk productivity and their childhood nutrition is better than non-insured households.
Governments have taken notice and are now adopting the model and partnering with the IBLI team. The Kenyan Government is now providing IBLI coverage to 9,000 households through the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program (KLIP) and expects to cover 80,000 to 100,000 households by 2019. Most recently, in late August 2016, KLIP made indemnity payments to a few hundred herders in Kenya’s huge and arid northern county of Wajir, which has suffered prolonged drought.
In Ethiopia, a government pilot project spearheaded by Mude’s team is working to expand its insurance program, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is making IBLI-type insurance a key pillar of its food security strategy in Ethiopia’s pastoralist lowlands. Other governments and development agencies are seeking help in testing IBLI-type policies across West Africa’s Sahel and in the drylands of southern Africa.
“We have the satellite technology needed to monitor grazing conditions in the remotest of regions,” Mude said. “We should be using it to ensure that Africa’s remote livestock herders have access to the basic insurance farmers around the world take for granted. We draw inspiration from Borlaug’s lifelong commitment to ensure his research makes a difference. Together with many partners and the herders themselves—and only together—we’re determined to find new ways to help millions of people continue to practice the oldest form of sustainable food production the world has ever seen.”