Startup Spotlight: Pula

An interview with Rose Goslinga, founder of Pula and a pioneer in the field of agriculture insurance, details the story behind the startup that is insuring small-scale farmers in Africa

Agent training in Chongwe, Zambia

Entrepreneur, Rose Goslinga, didn’t just found the agriculture insurance startup Pula, she was part of the first agriculture products developed in Africa for smallholder farmers. Her journey as an entrepreneur is a unique and inspiring one. Growing up in Tanzania with her family, she never imagined she would one day be selling insurance, or a pioneer in the field of agricultural insurance. But today, she is the founder of Pula, a company using satellite data to track the rains in Africa that farmers heavily rely on, and to provide insurance for farmers when the rains fail.

Many families in rural Africa grow their own food on small-scale farms to feed themselves. Their food security is tightly woven with the weather: if it rains early and steady, families will eat; if it rains early and farmers plant their crops, and the rains stop, the crops fail. Consider the Year of the Cup, a colloquial name for Kenya’s devastating drought of 1984, when the entire harvest of that year could fit into one cup. Farmers and families had no mitigationin place for such a disaster.

Pula aims to never see another year as bad as the Year of the Cup by providing insurance to these small-scale farmers. It’s micro insurance. Instead of relying on multiple farm visits like traditional insurance, Pula uses satellite data to track the clouds, essentially tracking the rain. There is far less cost involved, making it viable to offer insurance on a small scale because it allows Pula to see when farmers might need assistance, remotely. If there are no clouds then there is no rain.

“To make insurance have a positive impact you need to think about how the user will benefit,” Goslinga said.

If farmers have a loss early in the season due to no rains, Pula gives them new seed so they can replant and have a harvest instead of waiting until the end of the season to reimburse them.

Pula makes insurance simply part of the package when farmers purchase seeds — quite literally. Pula partnered with a seed company to include the price of insurance in the package of the seed. When farmers purchase the seed packets, there is a card with a number in the package. Farmers text that number which then is attributed to a specific pixel on the satellite to determine their location. That location is monitored by satellite data to track the rain for the next three crucial weeks of planting. If it doesn’t rain, then Pula replaces the farmer’s seed. But this kind of agriculture insurance was non-existent before Goslinga.

Farmer registered for Chilala Insurance in Lusaka, Zambia

Goslinga’s first venture into the world of insurance came with her first job out of University. She was working forthe Ministry of Agriculture of Rwanda from 2006 until 2008. She had no background in agriculture, having studied economics in school.

“I had this fantastic boss. I think, with your first job, it doesn’t really matter what you do but if you have a great boss it’s going to be a great experience.”

Her boss, the Minister of Agriculture, asked Goslinga to research insurance for the Ministry. Their work involved a lot of risk and they had no risk mitigation.

“I liked finance. I was the person in the Ministry who did the budget. I was interested in finance and decent with numbers. We would take on a lot of risk with no insurance so I started researching that. And that research led into Rwanda’s first agriculture insurance pilot.”

After her position with the Ministry ended in 2008, Goslinga moved to Switzerland and connected with a foundation with plans to work on agricultural insurance. After growing this project to reach over 185,000 farmers, she decided she wanted more and intended to test her leadership skills. She left the foundation to begin Pula and has been running Pula since 2015. Just in 2016, Pula successfully insured 400,000 farmers across six countries in Africa. This success comes from Goslinga’s dedication, expertise and a committed, grounded team.

“Our team brings different skill sets. Everyone has to be willing to do everything. What I love about each of my team members is we all have a hard working attitude. We’re not too big to do small things like make sure all of the brochures are properly stapled.”

DFS Lab is proud to work with Pula as Rose leads her team toward creating Africa’s insured future. We have great confidence in Rose and Pula and find the insurance-in-the-background process to be a true game changer in emerging market crop insurance.

Brochure of drought insurance in Tamil Nadu, India

Photos courtesy, Rose Goslinga, Monsanto India, and Allan Ngenda