De-risking Women Farmers for Local Banks with Index-based Insurance Product Innovations

Aug 28, 2020 | All, Data & Tech Acceleration, Digital Financial Services, Women & Youth

The costs and benefits associated with adopting climate-smart agriculture technologies and practices are distributed unequally among household members. We partnered with EIT Climate – Kic to assess the best way possible through which women can be equitably included in their WINnERS (Weather Index-based Risk Services) Diversity Plus Program in Tanzania. 

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Climate change is having profound impacts on food supply around the world. Increasing incidences and intensities of weather-related disasters – from floods, droughts, pestilence and wildfires, and land degradation, to disrupted rainfall patterns – are all resulting in poorer crop yields. Scientists predict that in the next 10 years, yields in staple crops (e.g., maize, wheat, sorghum and millet) in Africa could fall by half – raising food prices and scarcity. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that an estimated 265 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020, up from the 135 million people at risk before the crisis, due to income and remittance losses alone.

While all actors along the agriculture supply chain are affected by disruptions to food production, availability, and prices, smallholders are most vulnerable to these risks. This is partly due to the small size of their farms, often held under informal tenure, and marginal or risk-prone environments. However, it is mostly due to their inability to invest in good quality and resilient inputs that can help them mitigate climate-related risks and shocks. 


It is also evident that women and men experience climate change impacts differently, due to their socially constructed roles and responsibilities. Women’s rights, mobility, and access to resources, information, and decision-making authorities are poorer than men’s. Consequently, according to the FAO, women have less capacity to:

  1. Adapt and diversify their livelihood options (which depends on elements such as literacy, education, skills, access to information)
  2. Access social capital and productive resources, including informal and formal institutions and support networks (e.g. membership in social groups, co-operatives and associations)
  3. Access to technology (e.g. transport and telecommunication networks) public utilities and agricultural inputs.

Moreover, as climate change affects the availability of surface water, on-farm and off-farm tasks are disproportionately increased for women than men.

One way to build resilience for smallholders is to optimize the adoption of different risk management methods through both adoption of technology and the spreading of risks among other supply chain stakeholders. The alignment of incentives to invest at the farm-level ultimately needs to overcome several barriers ranging from risk aversions, scalability, and poor regulatory frameworks. While most delivery models often leverage Farmer Organizations (FO) as channels to achieve some economies of scale, this does not necessarily translate into an increase in participation or financial inclusion of women farmers in FOs. Our work has shown that women farmers gravitate towards women-centric groups like savings groups due to their accessibility, trustworthiness, and flexibility. At the same time, fund security is the most commonly articulated need across both group types.


To address the above challenges, EIT Climate – KIC (CKIC), in collaboration with Imperial College London and other partners such as Ecole Polytechnique, designed a program known as WINnERS (Weather Index-based Risk Services) Diversity Plus Program. The aim of the program is to develop a holistic de-risking framework involving all stakeholders of the staple food value chains in order to make smallholder farmers creditworthy to their local banks and allow them to access inputs and markets for staple crops. WINnERS is one of the first insurance schemes in which the premium depends on the implementation of farming practices that increase crop resilience to adverse weather such as heat stress, or lack of rainfall. It includes an index-based insurance product that uses machine learning to deliver robust climate risk information. This information helps smallholder farmers plan ahead to secure their crops and allows them to access loans and insurance services, often for the first time in their lives. Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools help reduce simulation costs and the level of insurance premiums which creates a better value proposition for financial institutions than traditional insurance models.

Recognizing women create greater social and economic and returns when financially included, The WINnERS Tanzania program was specifically dedicated to promoting gender equality and financial inclusion for female smallholders in Tanzania. As in many countries, Tanzanian women face poor social conditions and are not well represented in local farmer cooperatives. Through the WINnERS program, 25,000 farmers have already been insured for their maize production in Tanzania, with 85% of participating farmers gaining access to financial credit for the first time in their lives. Contracts are now designed with incentives to improve gender equality within farming cooperatives, putting women in higher positions such as management.


Although the insights are preliminary, our research reveals insights into the barriers faced by women smallholders in accessing financial products like input credit and savings services in Tanzania. With a focus on women in farming cooperatives and credit groups:

  • We defined the four stages of a woman farmer’s journey through accessing input loans and insurance products via the Farm-to-Market Alliance (FtMA) platform
  • For each of the four stages, we identified insights that illustrate the specific needs of women farmers as well as insights that encompass needs of all smallholders
  • We designed 12 product concepts to overcome the identified challenges within the FtMA delivery model.
  • For the top 8 concepts that resonated most with project partners, we further defined opportunities for incentivizing and training stakeholders to drive uptake and adoption.


John Mundy, Tanzania Country Director | Locust & COVID-19 Digital Response Manager, Mercy Corps AgriFin

Muthoni Mugo, MErL & Communications Officer – Mercy Corps AgriFin

Samuel Karanja, Agriculture Manager, Mercy Corps AgriFin 

Download the Full-Length Case Study.