Many rural villagers throughout Africa rely on small-scale agriculture to support themselves. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy thing to rely on.

Improved seeds and fertilizer can help increase yields, but rarely do farmers choose to invest in them. And for good reasons, too. Would you invest in more expensive seeds if you knew that the probability of your crop failing due to poor weather conditions was extremely high? It’s not a safe bet.

Kilimo Salama, which means “safe agriculture” in Kiswahili, aims to change that in western Kenya. The project is a partnership between Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, UAP Insurance and Safaricom (a Kenyan mobile phone company).

Kilimo Salama has set up over 30 weather stations in five regions in western Kenya. Farmers living in these region can choose to buy insurance when purchasing seeds, fertilizers or chemicals for a minimal added cost (ranging from 9 KSH to 100 KSH, or about US$0.10 to US$1.30, per kg of the product). They recieve an insurance subscription directly on their mobile phones. If nearby weather stations register during the growing season that weather conditions were unfavorable due to drought or excessive rain, farmers receive a payout proportional to the extent of the bad weather directly to their mobile phones via Safaricom’s M-PESA.

The project was piloted with two weather stations in 2009. A drought occured, and farmers who invested in improved seeds or fertilizers either received a 30% or 80% payout depending on their location. The following season, more farmers subscribed to the insurance.

Not only has Kilimo Salama taken an entirely new and innovative approach to microfinance, but they are helping farmers build trust in new technologies and improved methods. I am expecting mass expansion in the near future.

(Photo from Kilimo Salama’s website)