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Bangladesh

Shifting the Δ along the delta

Shifting the Δ along the delta

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.

Deteriorating climate conditions and more extreme events have become a huge concern. Bangladesh stands seventh in the world’s climate risk index. In the past 20 years, extreme weather events have caused damage and loss worth more than $1680 million. Smallholders in Bangladesh face considerable risks due to climate change but have very limited options to de-risk their crop production. Smallholders typically have few savings and little access to other safety nets. Crop damage caused by adverse weather makes them even poorer, and thus even less resilient to future disasters. Climate insurance represents a sustainable risk transfer solution to increase smallholders’ resilience.

In 2016, our Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) agreed on the potential of weather index insurance in such a setting. SDC support enabled the development of insurance products, their ‘dry run’ testing, and a feasibility study. This support was built on work already promoted by the Swiss Capacity Building Facility (SCBF). Our 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 season rice and maize, excess rainfall for Aman season 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. The distribution of insurance in rural areas is a further challenge. Inadequate data infrastructure can also impede implementation.

Bangladesh faces all three issues. Together with SDC, we, therefore, started ‘Promoting Risk Mitigation Measures for Climate Change Adaptation' (Surokkha). This is a four-year project funded by SDC under the Bangladesh Microinsurance Market Development Project (BMMDP). It is implemented and co-funded by SFSA and managed by Swisscontact Bangladesh. The aim is to provide 233,000 smallholders with adequate risk mitigation measures, financial literacy training, and agricultural extension services. 

Surokkha will focus on piloting and testing commercially sustainable weather index-based crop insurance products and risk mitigation methods. These will help establish an agriculture insurance market in Bangladesh. Surokkha also aims to disseminate knowledge and experience from the pilot phase. The table describes this project’s Theory of Change. 

Since 2020, a further partnership aims to develop and promote Agriculture Climate Risk Insurance (ACRI) products that are farmer-centric and needs-based. The InsuResilience Solutions Fund (ISF), through the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management (FS), as implementing agency joined our Bangladesh program with a matching grant. ISF and Surokkha and ISF are partnering to enhance smallholders’ productivity and increase their resilience. 

Results

Since our AIS team began working in Bangladesh, it has helped educate 470,000 farmers on weather index insurance. AIS partners with leading insurers Green Delta Insurance Company Limited (GDIC) and Sadharan Bima Corporation (SBC), as well as with aggregators like BRAC, Syngenta Bangladesh, ESDO, GUK, and GBK-E.

The first pilot in January 2019 achieved the sale of 171 policies. Since then, nine innovative weather index insurance products for rice, maize, and potato have been developed. The number of policies sold has increased to more than 85,000. Credit, input, service and agribusiness-linked distribution channels have been created. More than 15,000 smallholders have received payouts. Insured smallholders also benefit from additional services such as weather forecasting and agronomic advice. The Syngenta Foundation is building on these initial successes and aims to support millions of Bangladeshi smallholders.