Weather insurance boosts the resilience of Malawian farmers

Empowering communities to manage climate risks and tackle hunger

Badre Bahaji
World Food Programme Insight
3 min readMay 16, 2018


Cathreen bagging maize at home. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

“I had never heard about weather insurance. I only knew about vehicle insurance,” said Cathreen Thomas, a smallholder farmer living in Masaka, south of Malawi. “Last year, I harvested ten bags of maize, but this year, it did not rain for twenty five days during the rainy season so I am only expecting to harvest two bags of maize this year,” she added.

However earlier this year, Cathreen insured her crops against drought through the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) and Oxfam America’s R4 Rural Resilience Initiative and received a payout of 38,000 Malawi Kwacha (US$ 55) as a compensation for the dry spells she experienced. “It’s a relief for my family. I am planning to use the payout to buy seeds which I will plant in my newly irrigated fields.”

“This year, it did not rain for twenty five days during the rainy season”

One of the innovations under the R4 initiative is that poor farmers, like Cathreen, can pay for weather-index insurance through their labour. This means that a farmer has access to insurance by providing up to fourteen days of work within a period of two months. Farmers are required to create assets that contribute to improving their capacity to resist weather shocks, like irrigation systems.

Cathreen harvesting maize in her field. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

“What I am very happy about is that I benefitted from crop insurance by digging swales. Because I dug these swales, my fields are moist from trapping water, Soon, I will be planting seeds for my next crop.” said Cathreen.

Petros Malunga, 29, also lives in Masaka. He was one of the first smallholder farmers to join the R4 Initiative. “Last year, I harvested twelve bags of maize, but this year I’m expecting only four bags. Elders in the village talk about how dry spells have became more intense and frequent. With my payout, I’m going to buy seeds and work on my garden which will bring me some benefits and help me get through the year.” he said, whilst digging a trench in a field he irrigated, destined to be planted with sweet potatoes.

Petros digging a swale to retain moisture in his field. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

“Elders in the village talk about how dry spells have become more intense and frequent”

“This season in Malawi, more than 7,000 drought-affected families will receive an insurance pay-out valued at around US$ 400,000. This is the first time that a weather index insurance programme has delivered payouts at such a large scale in Malawi,” said Benoit Thiry, Country Director for WFP Malawi. “Given the impacts of climate change, weather insurance, a key element which complements other initiatives being undertaken to make people more resilient to weather-related shocks, needs to grow in Malawi.”

Using a wide range of interventions and an integrated approach, including village saving and loans as well as micro-credit, WFP’s R4 Rural Resilience Initiative has broken new ground in climate risk management by enabling the poorest farmers to pay for drought insurance with their labour, while developing their capacity to pay for it with cash.

The insurance is index based, meaning satellites are used to monitor rainfall and payouts are triggered automatically if rainfall is below pre-agreed amounts. Farmers are actively participating to develop a tailored product and greater understanding of insurance. They also collect records on rainfall levels to help track the likelihood of a payout.

The success of the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative wouldn’t be possible without multi-stakeholder partnerships. WFP is implementing R4 in partnership with local stakeholders and the government supported by funding from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Government of Flanders International Cooperation Agency and DFID (United Kingdom).

Watch Cathreen story on Youtube

Read more about WFP’s work in Malawi.



Badre Bahaji
World Food Programme Insight

Advocacy and Reporting Officer with @wfp in Malawi 🇲🇼