In Kenya, there is a new project, aimed at training farmers to use smartphones to chart the health of their crops, so that they are more likely to receive compensation when droughts or floods hit. The new way of tracking and verifying when harvests fail, using an app on a smartphone, is intended to result in a cheaper and more effective type of insurance than commonly used schemes based on satellite imagery or agents visiting fields in person.
"Index-based" crop insurance, which has been promoted widely among small-scale farmers in recent years, depends on satellite images to detect if a given area - which may cover up to 1,000 farmers - is being hit by extreme weather. But the growing use of satellite mapping to determine pay-outs has not worked well for many farmers, according to Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
That is because the technology gathers data on a wide area, giving a general view of whether it is affected by drought or floods but does not measure rainfall at a local enough level, said Jemimah Njuki, an IDRC specialist in agriculture and environment.
"In a situation where satellite data indicates that a region had sufficient rainfall, some farmers there who experienced crop loss due to micro-climates are not given insurance pay-outs. Feeling upset, some opt out of the insurance scheme," she said.
But a solution is on offer in some villages like Mwiraria's: Using smartphones, farmers are learning how to take photos of their land, starting from before a crop is sown to after it is harvested or damaged by weather extremes, said Ibeere.
The snaps should include a recognisable landmark so they can be verified and are shared with researchers and insurance agents, helping them decide more precisely which farmers have suffered losses.
The new data source also makes it possible to determine if a crop failed due to too much or too little rainfall, or was harmed by pests and diseases, she noted. Partnering with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and insurance product developer ACRE Africa (Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise Ltd), the new project aims to work with 50,000 farmers, she told allafrica.com.