Mali's farmers count on national fund to expand climate insurance
By Soumaila T. Diarra
Bamako, Mali - A lack of rain in the middle of last season caused Seydou Diarassouba's sorghum crop to fail.
Now the emaciated 43-year old farmer must wait for the next rains, due in late June, to start growing a new crop in his impoverished village of Dialakoroba in southern Mali.
Climate-linked agriculture risks like these should be covered by a national fund being set up by Mali's government and due to start operating this year, according to Ibrahima Coulibaly of the CNOP, a federation of Malian farmers' organisations.
The fund was first mooted under Mali's 2005 Agriculture Orientation Law, aimed at improving production and helping small-scale farmers modernise.
Farmers' associations are pushing the government hard to finance disaster risk insurance from the upcoming fund, which will draw on public and private money.
Farmers have yet to receive anything, as the fund is not yet up and running. A ministerial decree in 2010 aimed to speed up its creation, but a military coup in 2012 and an uprising by Tuareg and Islamist insurgents interrupted official reforms.
Experts hope the initiative will expand small-scale insurance programmes now run by regional chambers of agriculture and aid agencies to the rest the country, helping break the cycle of harvest failure caused by extreme weather common across the Sahel region of West Africa.
Coulibaly said the delay in setting up the national insurance programme was partly intentional.
Defining clear responsibilities would improve the chances of success for a concept that is new to Mali's mostly uneducated farmers, amid concerns the resources transferred could be misused, he added.
Hunger despite cereal banks
Diarassouba never went to school, nor did most of his 11-member family, made up largely of women and children.
Household farming depends on Diarassouba and his two younger brothers who must feed the others with their labour.
“My wife isn't here as I divorced, but my paralysed brother and his wife and children are. All these people rely on (us),” Diarassouba said.
In a region that regularly faces inadequate rainfall and related hunger problems, there are local strategies aimed at preserving food security.
But in Dialakoroba, the cereal bank - a government-subsidised community warehouse that supplies grain - doesn't keep people fed, according to blacksmith Banze Coulibaly, 54.
Cereal banks are a popular response to food insecurity in West Africa where farmers often run out of grain each year before the next harvest.
The blacksmith said that even if cheap grain is available from the cereal bank, his family still goes hungry. "We just have to put up with it when I can't borrow the money to buy cereals," he said with a hollow laugh.
Although Mali's last rainy season was not too bad, except for a dry spell in the middle, some of Dialakoroba's poor farmers are wondering where they will find seeds to plant.
Insurance gaining ground
Insurance programmes could provide a solution, according to Youssouf Traore, a seed expert at the CNOP.
After a catastrophic rainy season in 2010, many farmers who borrowed money to buy seeds got a poor harvest. But a micro-insurance scheme, funded by the U.S.-backed West African Seed Alliance, helped some of them repay their credit, Traore said.
Mali is located in a region that is expanding disaster risk insurance. The African Union announced in January that a pan-African insurance scheme would pay out $25 million in drought insurance claims to three countries in the Sahel.
The money went to Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, which paid a combined premium of $8 million. Mali has yet to purchase insurance under the programme, which will also offer coverage for tropical cyclones and floods from 2016.
Besides implementing Mali's agriculture law, farmers hope to expand micro-insurance programmes funded by international donors and private finance.
Traore is working with NGOs and local banks on how they might share the cost of insurance with farmers, enabling them to afford it.
(Reporting by Soumaila T. Diarra; editing by Megan Rowling)