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Shifting the Δ along the delta

In Bangladesh, insurance is a key to smallholder resilience

Ask people to name countries notoriously hit by flooding, and they will probably mention Bangladesh. With a Syngenta Foundation team already active there, the country was a natural choice for our insurance work. An important new phase is now beginning.

Much of Bangladesh is a river delta – one of the largest in the world. This fact of geography brings with it both benefits and dangers. This is particularly true in a country whose economy depends so heavily on farming and related activities. In good times, Bangladeshi smallholders benefit from plentiful water. They are, however, particularly vulnerable to frequent natural disasters such as floods, cyclones, and tidal surges. In some parts of the country, agriculture is also hit from time to time by drought.

Smallholders typically have limited savings and little access to social safety-nets. Crop damage caused by adverse weather makes them even poorer, and thus even less resilient to future disasters. Insurance helps farmers break out of this downward spiral.  

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) recognizes the potential of index insurance in such a setting. Together with our Foundation, in 2016 the SDC, therefore, helped fund the Bangladesh Agricultural and Disaster Insurance Programme (SUROKKHA). This support enabled the development of insurance products, their ‘dry run’ testing, and a feasibility study, building on work already promoted by the Swiss Capacity Building Facility (SCBF).

BADIP investigations pointed both to the wide range of climate-related risks and their consequences. Adverse weather often limits plant germination, pollination, growth, and maturity, or destroys large amounts of crops. Rice, maize and potato growers are particularly badly hit. We and our partners, therefore, worked on insurance products to address four main problems. These are unseasonal rainfall for boro rice and maize, excess rainfall for aman rice, high temperature or drought for boro rice and maize, and the potato disease Late Blight.

Suitable insurance cover is, however, only part of the equation. Smallholders worldwide frequently know little about any kind of insurance or the related benefits. Distribution of insurance in rural areas is a further challenge. Inadequate data infrastructure can also impede implementation. Realizing that Bangladesh faces all three issues, SDC is now launching a four-year initiative called BADIP Phase 1 where SFSA focus on its crop insurance component. The program delivers crop insurance through distribution channel partners. We expect it to improve the resilience of some 230,000 smallholders.