Poor people in developing countries are vulnerable to a broad range of shocks that affect their livelihoods, including illness, accidents, and death as well as loss of assets such as animals, crops, and machinery. The poor are still predominantly rural, and their vulnerability is even higher than that of their urban peers. Health facilities are less available and less well equipped in rural areas; water, sanitation, roads, and telecommunication are less developed; and people are less educated and not as aware of risk-mitigation mechanisms. Given the rural character of poverty in many countries, poverty reduction remains strongly connected to agricultural development, and sustainable agricultural development depends on well-organized risk mitigation. One important tool for mitigating risk is microinsurance.
The International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) defines microinsurance as “insurance that is accessed by the low-income population, provided by a variety of different providers but run in accordance with generally accepted insurance practices (including the IAIS Insurance Core Principles).” It differs from traditional insurance in that it is adapted to the circumstances of the poor: premiums are low, products have simple designs, it is offered through well-trusted and innovative channels, premium payments are flexible, and claims are settled promptly.
Microinsurance has the potential to enable the rural poor to mitigate the effects of shocks that threaten their lives, productivity, and assets. It can help prevent emergencies from depleting poor people’s savings and other assets. Furthermore, it allows households to invest in high-risk, high-return activities by securing the lending risk for agricultural and other investments.
Financial sector reforms in many countries have begun to include insurance as an important pro-poor financial service along with other microfinance services such as savings, lending, and cashless payments. According to a study by the International Labour Organization, microinsurance in Africa almost doubled from 2006 to 2009. The survey shows that half of the schemes were growing faster than 30 percent a year between 2007 and 2008. Data on growth in rural areas, however, are not available.
This brief is one of series on innovations in rural and agriculture finance.