By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya is on its way to breaking the devastating cycle of drought, poverty and hunger over the next decade, a leading scientist said as he was named winner of a prestigious award.
Kenyan scientist Andrew Mude won the 2016 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application on Tuesday for developing livestock insurance, using state-of-the-art technologies, for herders in East Africa's drylands.
"I am confident that with insurance and the related complementary services, the boom and bust cycle will come to an end," said Mude, principal economist at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
"The boom and bust cycle and particularly its consequence of famine ... is reducing and will reduce relatively rapidly in the course of the coming decade," the 39-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
Droughts regularly decimate herds across Africa, forcing destitute families to abandon their nomadic lifestyle and settle in remote, dusty towns where they fall deeper into poverty.
Over 16,000 Kenyan households have already benefited from ILRI's index-based insurance scheme, which provides herders with a payout when rains fail, rather than waiting for animals to die, Mude said.
Compensation is calculated using satellite images to compare current forage levels with historical data.
"When a drought hits, you minimize the impact," Mude said, likening the scheme to health insurance.
"Households can use the indemnities to try and protect livestock from dying."
There are more than 50 million herders across Africa and many of them could benefit from the technology, according to a statement by the World Food Prize, which was created by Borlaug - famous for developing wheat varieties that drove the Green Revolution in the last half of the 20th century.
Eliminating hunger by 2030 is one of 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed last year by U.N. member states to tackle the world's most troubling problems.
Since its launch in Kenya in 2010, livestock insurance has also been rolled out in Ethiopia, with plans to test similar schemes in west and southern Africa, the statement said.
Kenya's government lent its support to the project in October, following up on a 2013 election pledge to provide national livestock insurance.
From thinking pastoralism was a "dying and inefficient" production system, government now sees it as well suited to the challenges of the arid lands, Mude said.
The government is paying premiums of eight percent to 12 percent for 5,000 households in northern Kenya, each with livestock worth around $700, Mude said.
Some 1.2 million Kenyans need food aid due to poor spring rains associated with the El Nino weather phenomenon, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) said.
The situation is likely to worsen as La Nina is predicted to bring poor October to December rains, it said.
El Nino occurs when water in the Pacific Ocean becomes abnormally warm, while La Nina involves unusually cold waters.
Almost 300 herders in the drought-hit north received some $120 each in insurance payouts last Wednesday, Mude said.
"We're now planning to replicate this novel insurance scheme across all of northern Kenya, where some four million pastoralists depend primarily on livestock," Kenya's cabinet secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries, Willy Bett, said in the statement.
Households using insurance are less likely to sell off their livestock in distress when prices are low during droughts, or to reduce the nutritional intake of children aged below five, and report a greater sense of wellbeing, Mude said.
With improved access to roads, mobile phone networks and banking services, herders are starting to develop businesses to "build themselves out of poverty", he said.
The award, named after the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, recognizes science-based achievements in the fight to end global hunger and poverty.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)