Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taking disaster out of Ethiopian drought

IRIN: New automated weather stations could boost Ethiopia’s fledgling agricultural insurance schemes, expanding the use of payouts triggered by abnormally low rainfall and reducing costly visual verification of yield losses. Some 85 percent of Ethiopians farm for a living, mostly on very small plots. They have few options to mitigate the increasing crop failure brought about by climate change. With credit hard to come by, farmers may have to sell essential assets or dip into meagre savings to survive a poor harvest and pay for the next planting season.

Such a poverty trap, exacerbated when severe drought affects entire regions, undermining traditional risk management strategies, tends to rule out investment in improved seeds or other costly yield-enhancing inputs. Sometimes it prevents a farmer buying any new seeds at all.

Two insurance schemes have been set up recently in Ethiopia in an effort to break this vicious cycle – and to make a profit. For now, they only have a few thousand policy-holders between them – fewer than 1 percent of all farmers in Ethiopia, and well short of the critical mass required to ensure long-term viability.

The new weather stations could improve their chances. The National Meteorological Agency has just set up 20 (10 in the Somali Region, five in Eastern Oromia and five in Afar) - and another 30 are due to be installed by the end of 2010. The devices send real-time data to Addis Ababa via mobile phone and feed into the country’s national drought index.

"The stations will allow us to identify climate risks at an early stage and better protect vulnerable, food-insecure people in rural areas through innovative projects such as the weather risk insurance," said Felix Gomez, Ethiopia acting country director for the World Food Programme, which installed the stations….

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