The insurance sector in Bangladesh offers no protection to the rural population from natural disasters. Without access to insurance, farmers must limit their investments in farm implements and are unable to diversify their agricultural activities. A lack of investment and simultaneously low crop yields result in smallholder farmers being unable to free themselves from poverty.
The Bangladesh Microinsurance Market Development Project (BMMDP) was launched in 2017 by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Its objective is to increase the resilience of farmers to withstand climate-related crop failures and improve food security by way of microinsurance products.
According to the World Bank’s Country Climate and Development Report, Bangladesh may lose up to one-third of its gross domestic product by 2050 due to climate fluctuations and natural disasters. As approximately 38 per cent of the working-age population earns a living in agriculture, income stability and crop security, particularly for smallholder farmers, are a top priority for the country. In order to improve farmer resilience and productivity, the project is working closely with the insurance market in Bangladesh and developing insurance products for crops and farm animals, as well as services to minimize risks.
As part of the programme for sustainable agriculture implemented jointly with the Syngenta Foundation, Swisscontact has introduced a completely new type of insurance to Bangladesh: weather index-based crop insurance. Data is compiled at various weather stations and evaluated over a specific time period. The insurance makes an indexed payout whenever the values of a previously set threshold are exceeded or undercut.
The advantage of this method is that the insurance payout is neither based on the type of crop nor on its effective yield, instead, the payments are independent of the individual farmer’s losses. This means there is no individual damage assessment, and the administrative costs can be decreased significantly.
The insurance also offers various advisory services, such as voice calls informing farmers of the weather forecast and offering them agricultural advisory services (outbound dialling service, or OBD). Direct voice calls are greatly advantageous over brief news clips because they also reach illiterate people. Given Bangladesh’s literacy rate of 75 per cent in 2020, the use of voice calls has been shown to be significantly more effective than news clips in informing farmers.
In addition, the farmers receive seasonal advisory services. By getting informed on good agricultural practices such as the use of organic fertilisers or field irrigation for crops such as rice, potatoes, maize, etc., they can undertake the necessary measures to minimise the risk of crop failures from unfavourable weather changes.
One example from the field illustrates this service vividly: a farmer planning to fertilise his crop in the next few days will receive a phone call informing him of upcoming rains. Thus, he decides to delay fertilising until after the rain has ended so that the fertiliser is not washed away. This saves him money and resources.
The programme works together with a dozen partners from the private sector and insurance field on innovative solutions. It is thus a lighthouse project for successful collaboration between international development cooperation and the private sector.
As part of this programme, Swisscontact also helped in the development of the first disease and death insurance policy for cattle, for which farmers file an application and the costs of treatment for insured cattle are reimbursed. This medical insurance product uses the latest technology of machine learning to identify insured cattle by nose prints. Just as every human being has their own fingerprint, each head of cattle has its own unique nose print. Given that in Bangladesh cattle are worshipped and considered sacred, it is forbidden to clip a chip onto them.
From 2017 through 2022, more than 800,000 farmers have taken out crop and cattle insurance as part of the project. Nearly 480,000 of these farmers were women. The volume of financing forwarded to farmers amounted to 166 million Swiss francs. 463,000 farmers benefited from the use of climate-resistant land cultivation methods.