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by Samurdhi Ranasinghe, Communications Officer, IWMI

This piece was originally published on Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

Around 100 farmers in the north central province of Sri Lanka have recently received insurance payouts for crop damage caused by excess rain. The payouts come via an initiative from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) that uses satellite data to provide climate risk insurance and agro-climatic advice to marginalized famers to build their livelihoods and resilience to extreme weather events.

A farmer checking the agro-climate information sent to his phone via SMS as part of IWMI’s bundled insurance solutions program. Location: Village of Galenbindunuwewa in the North Central province of Sri Lanka. Photo: Samurdhi Ranasinghe / IWMI
A farmer checking the agro-climate information sent to his phone via SMS as part of IWMI’s bundled insurance solutions program. Location: Village of Galenbindunuwewa in the North Central province of Sri Lanka. Photo: Samurdhi Ranasinghe / IWMI

Over 750 million people in South Asia are exposed to extreme weather and water-related disasters such as floods, drought, thunderstorms and cyclones. Zeroing in on Sri Lanka, extreme weather events dominate the news throughout the year. Projected climatic changes are expected to impact the country’s poorest and most vulnerable communities strongly, exacerbating poverty and inequality.

High temperatures and exposure to extreme climate events have always plagued smallholder farmers in Sri Lanka with adverse effects also on the economy and national food security.

Following its success in India and Bangladesh, IWMI is rolling out hi-tech bundled solutions in Sri Lanka which comprise climate risk insurance, agro-climatic advice and climate resilient seeds. These trials in other countries demonstrate proven results, including helping vulnerable farmers increase their resilience to flooding and other natural disasters, and supporting them on the road to recovery – boosting local income.

The north central province of Sri Lanka was chosen as an area where landless and marginalized farmers depend solely on rain for irrigation. “Whether it’s excess rain or drought, we are left with serious damages to crops.” says Mariam, a farmer from the village of Galenbindunuwewa in the north central province.

“Lack of knowledge and technical skills, poverty, risks inherent to agricultural investments, financial restrictions have so far resulted in low investments made in enhancing resilience of these farmers,” says Giriraj Amarnath, Research Group Leader – Water Risks and Disasters (WRD). “But now, technology could be the key to improving the resilience of these farmers to natural disasters and their opportunities for recovery.”

Climate risk -insurance, climate and agronomy-related information are the services that have so far been introduced to this group of farmers. The insurance scheme ensures speedy compensatory payouts when extreme weather occurs and agricultural production collapses. The farmers receive agro-climatic advice on their mobile phones via SMS. Soon, experts hope to introduce seed varieties that better withstand climate risks such as droughts and floods.

For a small annual premium, farmers get access to this bundle of services. The insurance payouts are made automatically based on satellite data triggered by a specific weather event.

“We used to be quite nervous when farming because we knew we’ll have to bear the cost when our crops get ruined along with this excess rainfall,” says T. Mihilar from Galenbindunuwewa. “But with this insurance we can rest assured and continue farming. And before this service, we of course didn’t have this type of knowledge but the SMS advisory service has been very useful. Now our plan is to hopefully grow more crops with the support of this program”.

Gayani Nirmali Bandaranaike Manike, a farmer from a neighboring village in Weheragala: “As farmers we never had the knowledge to know when we will experience droughts, dry spells or heavy rainfall. But now through this SMS service we know the right time to plant seeds and the best time to add fertilizer. It is proving as a great service to us”.

Overall, the program reduces farmers’ financial burden resulting from crop damage and helps them break out of the poverty trap. However, the technologies cannot work in isolation. While stress-tolerant seeds can protect farmers from moderate weather risks, they provide no insurance from extreme weather.

“A risk-averse farmer may therefore, underinvest in such seeds unless extreme weather events are covered by crop insurance to cope with the financial losses from such events. This is where climate information services come in,” says Amarnath. “With access to accurate information, farmers can make informed and timely decisions about investing in the most appropriate seeds.”

In due course, this scheme will be spread across five other villages in Sri Lanka belonging to the districts of Ampara,  Kurunegala, Monaragala, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura.

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This work is jointly implemented by Sanasa General Insurance Company Limited and the Department of Agrarian Development, Sri Lanka. It is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

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