African governments need to subsidise premiums for small scale farmers to enable them to increase their uptake of insurance cover to reduce loss in income when crops are damaged in bad weather conditions emanating from climate change.

This is a recommendation from CIRCLE Visiting Fellow (CVF) Zelda Elum after concluding a one year research on climate change impact on agriculture and the implication for agriculture insurance market in South Africa.

The Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) programme is a programme funded by the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) and implemented by the African Academy of Sciences and the Association of Commonwealth Universities to develop the research skills of early career African researchers in the field of climate change. CIRCLE Visiting Fellows spend a year in an African institution (Host Institution) outside of their own (Home Institution) to undertake their research under the supervision of senior scientist at the host institution.

Elum conducted her research in the Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo provinces of South Africa where she found that less than 50 out of the 275 famers she interviewed had insurance. She observed that many of the farmers claimed they could not afford high premiums which averaged about 0.5 - 20% of total production cost or insured sum as they also thought it uneconomical for their small-scale farms. Some farmers also considered the procedures of getting insurance as too laborious.

“In this regard, governments could help by subsidising premiums especially for smallholder farmers,” Elum said.

Elum also found an unwillingness by some farmers to disclose if they have insurance cover for fear of not being able to claim for soft loans and grants allocated by the government for crops damaged by bad weather.

Elum believes the compensation of farmers and premium subsidisation should also be replicated by other African governments and adds that land fragmentation should be discouraged since “Some farmers don’t see the need to participate in insurance markets because their land is too small,” she says.

The lecturer from the University of Port Harcourt, who spent 2015 at the University of South Africa (UNISA) as part of the CIRCLE fellowship, is preparing to publish her findings.

She says the year of CIRCLE has improved her writing skills: “Before I came I had the notion that you only have to do field work to publish but I have realised that you can do desktop research that is publishable.” Although all her climate related manuscripts are currently under peer review, the fellowship period allowed her to publish some previous research work (these can be viewed at; http://arccjournals.com/journal/indian-journal-of-agricultural-research/A-187; http://journalissues.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Elum-and-Sekar.pdf

CIRCLE also allowed her to work with other like-minded researchers leading her to collaborate with peers at the University of Pretoria, UNISA and the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa under a climate change research group, which hopes to study the impact of the climate change phenomenon on maize in 2016.

Being a CIRCLE Visiting Fellow also gave her an opportunity to co-supervise a master’s student with another CVF (Dr Keletso Mopipi) at South Africa’s University of Fort Hare. She believes CIRCLE fellowship has been of immeasurable value to her academic career.