ILRI, Equity Bank and UAP Insurance launch first-ever project to insure cows, camels and goats in Kenya’s arid north

Satellite images of remote African lands are used to insure herders from devastating droughts

Arid lands

Thousands of herders in arid areas of northern Kenya will be able to purchase insurance policies for their livestock, based on a first-of-its-kind program in Africa that uses satellite images of grass and other vegetation that indicate whether drought will put their camels, cows, goats and sheep at risk of starvation.

The project was announced today in northern Kenya’s arid Marsabit District by the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), microfinance pioneer Equity Bank and African insurance provider UAP Insurance Ltd.

The index-based livestock insurance program will use satellite imagery to determine potential losses of livestock forage and issue payouts to participating herders when incidences of drought are expected to occur. If successful in the Marsabit District—where few of the 86,000 cattle and two million sheep and goat populations, valued at $67 million for milk and other products, are rarely slaughtered—the program would be offered to millions of semi-nomadic pastoralists and livestock keepers in other parts of the east African region.

“Today, our agents will begin selling insurance policies backed by UAP that for the first time will provide pastoral families in Kenya’s remote Marsabit District with a simple way to reduce their drought risk —the biggest threat to their cherished herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels—from devastating lives and livelihoods,” said Equity Bank Managing Director James Mwangi. “Livestock is the key asset for families in this region and securing this asset is critical to their ability to obtain credit and investments that can allow them to grow and prosper.”

ILRI, which is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), developed the project with partners at the Ministry of Development of Northern Kenya, Cornell University, Syracuse University, the BASIS program at University of Wisconsin, and the Index Insurance Innovation Initiative. The project is funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank and Financial Sector Deepening Trust (FSD Kenya).

Insuring livestock of pastoral families has long had been considered impossible due to the formidable challenges of verifying deaths of animals that regularly are moved over vast tracts of land in search of food. ILRI and its partners have overcome this impediment by combining satellite images of vegetation in the Marsabit District with monthly surveys of livestock deaths to pinpoint the level of forage reduction that will cause animals to die. This program is different from all others because it does not pay clients based on the actual loss of their livestock assets, but rather on indicators that the animals are at risk of death.

“The reason this system can work is that getting compensation does not require verifying that an animal is actually dead,” said Andrew Mude, who is the project leader at ILRI. “Payments kick in when the satellite images, which are available practically in real time, show us that forage has become so scarce that animals are likely to perish.”

Droughts are frequent in the region—there have been 28 in the last 100 years and four in the past decade alone—and the losses they inflict on herders can quickly push pastoralist families into poverty. For example, the drought of 2000 was blamed for major animal losses in the district.

“Insurance is something of the Holy Grail for those of us who work with African livestock, particularly for pastoralists who could use insurance both as a hedge against drought—a threat that will become more common in some regions as the climate changes—and to increase their earning potential,” said ILRI Director General Carlos Seré.

The cost of the plans offered will vary depending on the number of animals and the area of coverage. The policies contain a clause akin to a deductible, in which a family would buy coverage that would pay-out when livestock losses are expected to exceed a certain level. “We believe this program has potential because it has the elements insurers need to operate, which is a well-known risk (drought), and an external indicator that is verifiable and can’t be manipulated, which in this case is satellite images of the vegetation,” said James Wambugu, Managing Director of UAP Insurance.

The data on forage availability are derived from satellite images of plant growth in the region that are part of a global survey known as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI, a database regularly updated by scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). To develop the livestock insurance program, ILRI used NDVI data collected since 1981 estimating forage availability vegetation in the Marsabit District. This information was combined with data on livestock deaths that have been collected monthly since 2000 by the Kenya Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) and USAID’s Pastoral Risk Management Project. The result is a statistical model that reliably predicts when and to what degree forage reductions will result in drought-related livestock deaths.

Given the complexity of index-based livestock insurance, ILRI and its partners have developed an insurance simulation game for local communities to explain the key features of the insurance policy and tested it across the Marsabit District. ILRI’s Mude said many of the herders who played the game became intensely involved in the simulation. “It helps them understand how insurance can protect them against losses. They also appear to simply enjoy playing the game itself, which generates a lot of animated discussion,” said Mude.

Mude said there is a potential for livestock insurance to be valuable even without a drought that triggers payments. For example, a policy could prevent stock losses by providing pastoralists the means to obtain credit for purchasing feed and drugs that would allow animals to survive the tough conditions. Similarly, pastoralists who want to expand their herds to take advantage of Africa’s rising demand for livestock products are likely to find it easier to obtain capital from private creditors now unwilling to lend due to the risks associated with droughts.

But more fundamentally, ILRI believes insurance can help avert an all too common catastrophe, and one that could occur with more regularity if climate change alters rainfall patterns in the region: droughts pushing pastoralist families into chronic impoverishment by inflicting losses from which the people cannot recover.

For further background information on project details visit the IBLI website and associates ILRI stories

Safeguarding the open plains

Increasing urban populations are threatening pastoral lands and ways of life.

Safeguarding the open plains The Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem, wildlife-rich pastoral grasslands south of Nairobi, is under threat from rapid construction of fences, infrastructure, residential areas, and the growth of urban agriculture. Unchecked, this unplanned growth will destroy Nairobi National Park, the famous unfenced wildlife park 20 minutes drive from city centre that has always been connected to this ecosystem.

A program funded by the American Government through its development arm, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), seeks to secure open plains in Kaputiei, providing a dispersal area for big mammals within the Nairobi National Park, pathways for their seasonal migration to calving grounds outside the park, and open areas for both livestock and wildlife to graze.

Launching the project, American Ambassador to Kenya, Mr Michael Rannenberger, termed Nairobi National Park a “unique resource”, which needs to be conserved for the benefit of the entire country and the world.

“But it does not exist in isolation. If we can conserve it, it will benefit all of you – the economy will continue to grow through tourism and we will preserve the culture of the Maasai community”, he said.

He added that public-private partnerships are a key to conservation efforts and encouraged more private enterprises and businesses to join hands with local people and governments for environmental conservation.

For centuries, the indigenous communities, mainly of Maasai origin, living on the plains of Kenya’s Kajiado District, have reared livestock in expansive grasslands that are also home to big mammals and other wildlife. The Maasai have mastered the art of co-existing with the wild.

The Kaputiei Open Plains Program will help create value for the open plains and economic returns to the land owners through recreation, improved livestock production and tourism.

“We will consult all stakeholders, including women and the youth. The Kenyan Government, through its Ministry of Lands, will be a key player as they work on the land policy which gives a legal framework land issues”, said Kenyan Minister for Forestry and Wildlife Dr Wekesa.

The project aims to institute a natural resource management program to complement the existing short-term initiatives such as a land-leasing program that has helped keep land use here compatible with conservation. The project enables residents of Kaputiei to benefit more from managing their traditional grazing lands.

Speaking on behalf of the community, the former OlKejuado County Council Chairman, Julius ole Ntayia, said Athi-Kaputiei residents have produced a land-use “master plan” that needs to be implemented. He said while wildlife conservation was important, it was also important to help the local population improve their lives, especially through eco-tourism and better access to livestock markets.

Some of the expected outcomes are:

  • Improved institutional capacity for demand-driven land-use planning and enforcement for long-term social, economic and environmental benefits.
  • Site-specific natural resource management initiatives implemented outside protected areas that improve or maintain biodiversity and the condition of the existing natural resources.
  • New sustainable financing mechanisms focused on tourism and livestock development that enable residents of Kaputiei, particularly ethnic Kenyan pastoralists, to derive long-term benefits from managing their traditional grazing lands for the mutual benefit of livestock and wildlife, as opposed to sub-dividing, fencing and converting their lands to other uses for short-term gains; and
  • Pilot initiatives in support of the project area.
  • The project area becomes a conservation model for other wildlife-rich regions of Kenya and East Africa.

The Kitengela Project’s principal objective is to lay the necessary foundation to secure open rangelands and sustainable livelihoods in Kaputiei over the long-term. The two main targets of the project are securing 60,000 hectares of high-priority conservation land and generating US$500,000 in livestock value-chain improvements and $300,000 in tourism deals.

The project will be implemented by the African Wildlife Foundation in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Further Information Contact:

Said Mohammed
Research Scientist, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Nairobi, KENYA
Telephone: +254 (20) 422 3260

Towards customer oriented animal health services

The Scientific and Technical Review features ‘participatory epidemiology’ – a customer-oriented approach to disease control and surveillance that is being successfully applied in the battle against bird flu in Indonesia.

The latest issue of the World Animal Health Organization’s (OIE) Scientific and Technical Review contains 21 articles submitted by experts from all over the world describing different animal disease surveillance, control and elimination strategies, including an article on ‘participatory epidemiology’ for the control of deadly animal diseases.
Animal healthParticipatory epidemiologists rely on local knowledge to gather data on how disease is spreading, kept in circulation, and which diseases have most impact on livelihoods, from the perspectives of those affected. This ‘customer-oriented’ approach is throwing up surprises and proving to be working well for a variety of diseases that have big implications for animal health and veterinary public health worldwide.

The authors of the paper, ‘Participatory epidemiology in disease surveillance and research’, from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Ministry of Agriculture, Jakarta and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), summarise current field applications of participatory epidemiology and highlight lessons learned, future challenges and possible new areas for research. They argue that with the increasing international focus on emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases (animal to human transmitted), there is an urgent need for better integration of veterinary and public health surveillance programmes.

New approaches to new and old diseases

Traditionally, veterinary authorities and scientists approach disease outbreaks by making expert diagnoses and devising control solutions, with little involvement or consultation with the farmers affected. Participatory epidemiologists work differently and livestock keepers play a central role as key informants.

ILRI’s participatory epidemiologist, Christine Jost explains, ‘Participatory epidemiologists understand the importance of tapping into local knowledge and encouraging the participation of people affected. By involving local livestock keepers, we can gather valuable data on how disease is spreading and kept in circulation.

‘In poor countries there is often a lack of detailed information on disease outbreaks and prevalence. This is largely due to a lack of veterinary infrastructure, and also because there are typically many remote and isolated communities that are hard to reach. Even when there is some infrastructure in place, many authorities assume that farmers will come to their offices to report diseases. However, farmers would have to travel long distances to reach veterinary posts and incur significant costs when reporting disease problems. Thus it is very difficult to assess the real disease situation and the impacts of animal diseases on livelihoods.’

‘We go out into local communities and we talk to villagers. Local livestock keepers are critical in helping us establish livestock disease prevalence, symptoms, recent outbreaks, and also the impacts of different animal diseases from their perspectives. This approach is very much community centred and ‘customer-oriented’, says Jost.

Country experiences

This customer-oriented approach has thrown up some surprises which and reinforced the importance of actively involving local livestock keepers in disease control and surveillance plans and assessing disease priorities.

In Pakistan, authorities had previously thought that Foot and Mouth disease had the most important economic impact on farmers. However, participatory epidemiologists found that most farmers could cope with production losses from Foot and Mouth disease, but they could not cope with the impact of haemorrhagic septicaemia. These farmers took a more holistic view and considered risks and coping mechanisms, alongside economic impacts, when they prioritised diseases. This resulted in a rethinking of how diseases were prioritised by authorities.

In Indonesia, participatory epidemiologists, highlighted the true extent of bird flu. The avian influenza programme was first implemented in Indonesia in 2006 as a pilot programme and this has been rapidly expanded. When the programme was initiated, the extent of bird flu infection was not known. However, participatory epidemiologists found that bird flu was circulating unimpeded in backyard poultry, and within the first 12 months of operation, 800 disease events were detected. The large number of outbreaks detected overwhelmed the response capacity of the district animal health infrastructure, and led to recognition of the need to re-evaluate the national control strategy.

In Kenya, ILRI participatory epidemiologist, Jeff Mariner, led a multi-disciplinary team of participatory epidemiologists, economists and social scientists who assessed the impacts of the recent Rift Valley fever outbreak (a total of 684 human cases including 155 deaths of RVF were reported in Kenya between November 2006 and March 2007). This United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project generated some surprising results. One of the key findings was the importance of monitoring livestock owners’ local observations in early warning systems for preventing future outbreaks of the disease. The team is now about to start a follow-on project, contracted by FAO with USAID funds, to apply those lessons to Tanzania, and to develop guidelines for government decision-makers in Kenya and Tanzania so that they can have policies that more effectively take into consideration livestock owners’ knowledge for Rift Valley Fever prevention and control.

The future

While veterinary participatory epidemiology approaches are proving to be working well for various diseases, the authors of the Review paper argue that with the increasing international focus on emerging and re-emerging zoonoses, there is a need for better integration of animal health and public health surveillance programmes.

Traditionally, there is little collaboration or sharing of information between the veterinary and public health sectors. However, in Indonesia, the two sectors are now working together and applying participatory approaches in the fight against bird flu. Veterinary participatory disease surveillance is being used to target participatory public health surveillance to the most at-risk human populations – those whose poultry are experiencing outbreaks of active disease.

ILRI is also involved in another project in Indonesia, which commenced in August 2007. This is being funded by USAID.

According to Jeff Mariner, ‘This project focuses on different applications of participatory epidemiology methods in research.

‘We are testing the impact of alternative avian influenza disease control strategies on disease incidence, as well as testing the feasibility of various control options from an operational and livelihoods viewpoint’ says Mariner.

Mariner, Jost and colleagues are also involved in a pan-African project – Participatory Approaches to Disease Surveillance in Africa (PADSA) – which began in October 2007. The project, scheduled to be completed in two years, involves research to evaluate and apply participatory risk-based approaches to bird flu surveillance and to document lessons learned.

Need for veterinary and public health to work more closely together

The authors of the Review paper argue for the need for veterinary and public health to work more closely together and to apply participatory approaches. They make the following recommendations:

  • Expand the field of participatory public health through active research to identify public health surveillance and response gaps that can be filled using participatory methods.
  • Provide advocacy for policies that recognise veterinary services as integral to public health.
  • Devise innovative ways to integrate participatory disease surveillance workers and participatory public health practitioners in the field; and
  • Create effective models for integrating public health and veterinary surveillance, including the development of unified ‘public health’ databases.

One step forward has been the establishment of the Participatory Epidemiology Network for Animal and Public Health. Its purpose is to advance the science of participatory epidemiology through targeted research, capacity building, policy enhancement and practitioner education. The network is coordinated by ILRI and includes FAO, OIE, AU-IBAR, and nongovernmental organisations experienced in participatory epidemiology methods.

Article citation
Article reference: CC Jost, JC Mariner, PL Roeder, E Sawitri and GJ Macgregor-Skinner (2007). Participatory epidemiology in disease surveillance and research. Scientific and Technical Review. Volume 26 No 3. The Office International des Epizooties (OIE). pp 537-547.

Linked articles

Controlling bird flu in Indonesia through local knowledge ILRI news April 2007:

Further information:

Christine Jost
Veterinary Epidermiologist
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 (20) 422 3435
Jeff Mariner
Veterinary Epidemiologist
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 (20) 422 3432

Controlling bird flu in Indonesia through local knowledge

‘Participatory epidemiology’ – an approach to controlling livestock diseases pioneered by ILRI’s Jeff Mariner and colleague Christine Jost – is being used to improve control of bird flu in Indonesia.

Indonesia has the worst bird flu problem in the world. Experts fear that the country provides the perfect setting for the highly pathogenic form of avian influenza, H5N1, to evolve into a form easily passed among humans, touching off a global pandemic. Through an approach known as ‘participatory epidemiology’, teams of veterinarians are tapping into local knowledge of where and when bird flu outbreaks are occurring and then enlisting villagers’ cooperation in control efforts.

The H5N1 virus is endemic among poultry throughout much of Indonesia. ‘You simply couldn’t get more virus in the environment,’ says Jeffrey Mariner, a veterinarian at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, who is helping train surveillance teams under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

To establish a systematic control program, officials will have to track where and when outbreaks of bird flu are occurring, especially among the estimated 300 million chickens kept in backyards by 60% of all Indonesian households. That’s the challenge for a new approach called ‘participatory epidemiology’ pioneered by Jeff Mariner and his colleague Christine Jost, an assistant professor at Tufts University, in Massachusetts. By talking to villagers and about disease incidences and symptoms, researchers can gather valuable epidemiological data on how disease is spreading and kept in circulation, which in turn informs control strategies. Mariner and Jost pioneered participatory epidemiology to help control rinderpest in Africa. This approach enabled authorities in Sudan to target vaccination programs that eradicated rinderpest from the country. Although participatory approach has never been tried for avian influenza and has never been tried on such a large scale for any disease, international and Indonesian animal health officials believe that this approach will be a key component for bringing the H5N1 crisis under control, both in Indonesia and elsewhere in the developing world.

Early in 2006, with USD1.5 million in funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a pilot program was established in 12 districts in Java comprising two teams of publicly funded vets specializing in either participatory disease surveillance or participatory disease response. The teams ‘turned up much more avian influenza than anyone expected,’ Mariner says. ‘Poultry populations were fully saturated with the disease.’

Those alarming results persuaded Indonesian authorities and international experts to push for a rapid expansion of participatory epidemiology. Even though coverage of the country is still fairly limited, the data being accumulated are providing clues to what keeps the virus in circulation.

Participatory response is an important part of the program. Mariner says that until recently the standard response was for government vets to indiscriminately cull all poultry around the villages where infected birds were found and then vaccinate widely. This mass culling, known as ‘stamping out’, causes resentment among smallholders, who may correctly believe that their birds have not been exposed to the virus. Delays in compensation exacerbate the ill feelings. The participatory approach aims to involve villagers in decisions—ideally, to cull all poultry directly exposed to infected birds, with immediate compensation, and then vaccinate other birds in the vicinity. Mariner says that even smallholders can be convinced of the need to cull birds that have been directly exposed to H5N1-infected chickens.

At the same time that Indonesia is verifying the effectiveness of participatory epidemiology, the country, with FAO support and financing from the United States, Australia and Japan, is planning to extend the program to all of Java and Bali and parts of Sumatra by next May.

This article was taken from a longer article published in Science on 5 January 2007 titled: Indonesia Taps Village Wisdom to Fight Bird Flu.

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