When the rains failed to come last year in central Isiolo County, Kenya, Mohamed Dahir figured he might lose 40% of his herd of 400 sheep and goats. Like several million other pastoralists in northern Kenya and across the border in Somalia and Ethiopia, Dahir and his herd live migrating between pastures.
Dahir did indeed lose some animals, but he received a payout from an emerging kind of livestock insurance: based on predictions of vegetation growth in the area and how many animals that might harm, his index-based livestock insurance policy gave him 50,000 Kenyan shillings (about £370) in cash before the drought and its consequences really settled in. He was able to buy enough hay from distant counties to save 95% of his herd.
Index-based livestock insurance gets its name from the ecological indices used to calculate it, such as rainfall and vegetation growth. It now covers over 15,000 Kenyans in both commercial and government-issued varieties. The Kenyan programmes, established by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a CGIAR research centre in Nairobi, have paid out several times including a record US$2.2 million (£1.7 million) in early 2017.
But it took several tries and careful tuning to different communities across Kenya to create the livestock insurance policy. The insurance will probably require constant updating in the face of climate change and other shifts affecting its target population and the ecosystem in which they live.