In West Africa, farm income is highly exposed to risks from crop failure in the drier, inland areas, and from fluctuations in (world market) prices in the wetter coastal areas. As individuals and even extended families are poorly equipped to deal with these, provision of social safety nets is required. This paper reviews the situation in Ghana and the way in which the new financial instrument of index-based insurance might contribute to better it, focusing on the estimation of a crop indemnification scheme for farmers in Northern Ghana. It recalls that in a poor rural area like Northern Ghana, provision of social safety almost coincides with food security management, and must, therefore, distinguish three basic subtasks: distributing income entitlements (possibly indemnification payments from insurance) to the poor, ensuring collection of taxes (possibly insurance premiums) to fund the arrangement, and assuring delivery of staple goods, such as food to the all households, including the poor. The authors point out that crop insurance, in any form can at best entitle the poor, and with adequate premiums, become adequately funded, albeit that current experience suggests that farmers tend to be reluctant and to find it difficult to fulfil their obligations. Their main remark is, however, that unless the actual availability of goods is assured, the indemnification from crop insurance will under droughts only cause prices to rise and channel away scarce food from the uninsured to the insured. In short, in poor areas such as Northern Ghana co-ordinated food security management is key, particularly under severe droughts, with crop insurance possibly playing a role in the spheres of entitlement and taxation. Turning to the modalities of crop insurance, the authors mention the advantages of the index-based approach, which as compared to the individualized contracts of commercial insurance greatly reduces transaction costs by basing the indemnification payments on objectively and easily measurable variables, such as rainfall data collected at weather stations, and world prices of main export goods.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam