The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) confirms closure by end of 2020.
Leading image

Satellite data for agricultural index insurance

How can we ensure that drought is no longer an outright disaster to smallholder farmers in Africa, but instead a manageable risk? With low-cost satellite-based index insurance products that monitor climatic conditions in near real-time and automatically trigger a pay-out when conditions are below normal. This helps farmers secure necessary credit for inputs, recover faster from bad seasons and sustainably improve their livelihoods.

Thousands of satellites are orbiting our planet and constantly measuring the earth’s surface and atmosphere with a wide range of sensors. Satellites have been around for a good while, but in recent years new applications are being developed and combined with other technologies at an unprecedented rate. For example, it is now possible for African farmers to receive satellite data-based farming advice and early warning messages in combination with insurance, via SMS and paid for with mobile money on legacy phones.

Capturing drought-induced yield loss from space

Capitalising on this technological revolution, EARS, a satellite remote sensing company based in Delft, The Netherlands, uses satellite data to provide micro insurance for smallholder farmers. EARS is specialised in using meteorological satellites for continuous monitoring of climatic conditions of the African continent and around the globe. With hourly observations available since 1982, EARS has built a large database of daily climatic parameters including cloudiness, global and net radiation, rainfall, and actual and potential evapotranspiration.

These parameters are very relevant to agricultural production and can be used, amongst other applications, to develop agricultural index insurance products. Index insurance is a low-cost alternative to ‘traditional’ indemnity-based insurance. Index insurance is particularly suited to developing countries that lack mature agricultural insurance markets. With index insurance, the crop is not directly insured, as it is with indemnity-based insurance, but instead a proxy is used that is closely related to yield loss. This eliminates the need for local insurance experts and expensive loss assessment exercises, required for indemnity-based insurance.

In Uganda, this proxy is evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration, the loss of water from soil and plants through evaporation and transpiration, is an indicator for crop growth. Drought affects the ability of plants to capture CO2 and release H20. As such, by measuring evapotranspiration levels in insured areas, drought-related crop yield loss can be estimated. If in a given area the seasonal evapotranspiration falls below a certain threshold insured farmers in this area are automatically and rapidly compensated, without the need to put forward a claim to the insurance companies.

To develop index insurance products, EARS’ long historical data series is used to create risk profiles of every location in Uganda at a 3 km resolution. These are then used to price the insurance products. This is done at a sub-county level to help farmers obtain insurance without the need for detailed location data about their farms, but based on the sub-county they live in. Near real-time satellite reception ensures continuous monitoring of conditions and rapid loss assessment after the end of the growing season. When the drought index indicates the insured area falls below the index threshold, crops loss is imminent and insurance is paid out.

From aggregated data to bundled services

However, insurance is only part of the solution. It is necessary to support smallholder farmers in stabilising their financial situation to increase their investment and production capacity and professionalize their business. For this reason EARS has joined the MUIIS initiative in 2015.

The MUIIS project design is based on the need for timely, accurate and actionable information regarding crop management and climate risks to inform smallholders’ management decisions. The MUIIS platform offers subscribers a bundle of services: actionable agronomic advice via SMS to help farmers maximise production in a good year, and a safety net in the form of insurance that comes into effect in case of a bad year. MUIIS uses mobile money transact with its clients, to collect the subscription fees that include the insurance premium prior to the season, and to disburse pay-outs at the end of the season to subscribers that experience drought-related losses.

The project is executed by an international consortium of organisations. Local partners with farmer networks, outreach capacity and essential agronomic expertise are supported by a local state of the art fintech-firm. Several complementary satellite and weather data providers from Europa and the United States, including EARS, provide satellite data derived weather and agronomic information as input to the MUIIS platform to be distributed to subscribers via SMS during the growing seasons.

The MUIIS project is one of the 23 projects of Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW), a program run by the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) – the Dutch national space agency. With programs such as MUIIS, G4AW focuses on making food security more sustainable in developing countries by using satellite data. Its goal is to reach thousands of people with that data, and the new technological applications that are possible with it. It's really about scaling up," says Ruud Grim, coordinator of G4AW. The program was recently referred to by Minister Kaag of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation as a successful example of collaboration between the Dutch government, Dutch companies and local partners to create lasting impact.

Read More

by , , and

In order to feed 9 billion people by 2050, sustainable agricultural growth in needed, supporting an agricultural sector which produces enough food, which is inclusive and resilient, and which makes optimal use of innovation and digital solutions. Smallholder and family farmers must play a key role in achieving this. A 80% of the world’s food supply is produced by small-scale and family farmers, yet their full production potential is hardly reached.


A digital farmer profiling initiative, which enables coffee to be traced back to its roots, is paying off for smallholder farmers in Uganda. NUCAFE’s David Muwonge describes how coffee produced under the scheme is fetching far higher prices, revealing the strong potential of geo-referencing as a marketing tool to guarantee authenticity and origin.


Agriculture is back at the top of Africa’s development agenda, enjoying the support of governments and attracting heavy investments from private sectors. Many of smallholder farmers across Africa that are central to the agricultural transformation taking shape on the continent, however, struggle to benefit from these developments due to their dispersed, small-scale and unorganised nature. Aggregation of smallholder farmers’ needs may provide the solution, says Norbert Tuyishime of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF).

by and

Marc Ghislain Bappa Se and Nestor Ngouambe discuss opportunities for farmers’ organisations to harness data-driven agriculture to facilitate market access for smallholder farmers in Cameroon. Taking the PIDMA project as an example, they argue that supporting farmers’ organisations’ capacity to capitalise on data is crucial for farmers to efficiently and effectively tap into the ‘data value chain’ sphere.


How can we ensure that drought is no longer an outright disaster to smallholder farmers in Africa, but instead a manageable risk? With low-cost satellite-based index insurance products that monitor climatic conditions in near real-time and automatically trigger a pay-out when conditions are below normal. This helps farmers secure necessary credit for inputs, recover faster from bad seasons and sustainably improve their livelihoods.


A spatial data management system to profile tea farmers and map tea plots among members of the Igara Tea Growers Factory (IGTF) in Uganda has led to increased access to financial services for producers, and higher repayment rates for input loans. An immediate impact has been increased productivity and a dramatic fall-off in the practice of side-selling – so much so that other tea companies are now considering adopting the model.

by , , and

Africa is facing an escalating soil fertility crisis and without immediate interventions, the continent continues to lose over €3,5 billion per year worth of nutrients. To increase productivity whilst decreasing soil fertility decline, balanced fertilisation is essential. Farmer cooperatives using soil scanners to provide real-time fertiliser recommendations to farmers may be part of the solution. AgroCares and Agriterra present their findings from a soil sensor services pilot for farmer cooperatives in Kenya. 

by , and

The remote arid and semi-arid Lands of Northern Kenya are dominated by pastoralist livestock production and are constantly threatened by prolonged droughts. Destocking, restocking and moving their herd to grazing areas are a key coping strategy for herders. Yet in times of stress, herders often find themselves selling stock at low prices. The challenge of accessing information serves is a key constraint for pastoralist communities to make informed decisions and manage risks.


Past issues

ICT Update N. 91

Next-generation ACP agriculture - innovations that work

ICT Update N. 90

Women and Digitalisation in Agriculture

ICT Update N. 89

Data4Ag: New opportunities for organised smallholder farmers

ICT Update N. 88

Unlocking the potential of blockchain for agriculture

View all