“I have never been so proud because, that season, insurance made that harvest possible,” recalls Rose Goslinga, CEO and co-founder of Pula. She saw how insurance enabled 10,000 farmers in East Africa to reap a harvest against all odds in 2009. Rains fell early that year — well before farmers were ready — and the seeds they had already planted didn’t germinate. In most places across Africa and around the world, those farmers would have been out of luck. However, because their seeds were covered by insurance, the farmers were able to pick up new bags and enjoy a successful harvest in the latter part of the season. On our latest episode of VentureKast, the podcast about the most innovative and impactful financial inclusion startups in the world, I sat down with Rose to discuss Pula, Accion’s first ever investment in insurance for farmers.
Pula develops insurance products and distributes them to farmers, while simultaneously offering farm advisory services so that, in Rose’s words, their customers “can be the best farmers they can be.” Pula bundles their insurance products with farm inputs, such as fertilizer, seeds, or credit. This substantially lowers risk for farmers who want to be able to invest in more expensive, higher-yielding seeds and fertilizers. The insurance provides income stability for farmers who are at the mercy of droughts, floods, and pests. Pula uses satellite data and imagery to be able to underwrite these policies more efficiently and provide timely agronomic advice.
Across Pula’s eight African markets, insurance penetration rates are typically less than 5 percent. Pula innovates to improve this. The farmers realize that insurance is useful, but they are not willing to pay its upfront cost.
“They don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘I want to buy new insurance.’ They think, ‘I have school fees to pay’ or when it starts raining, ‘I need to buy fertilizer now; where is my money for fertilizer?’”
So, Pula figured out another way; they partner with input distributors to insure all bags of seeds and fertilizers — the costs are simply included in each bag. If the rain doesn’t arrive on time, the farmers can receive a voucher for another bag and plant again for a second chance at the harvest. The key is that the distributor pays for the insurance, not the farmer.
Technology underpins Pula’s business model. Satellite imagery monitors weather conditions to facilitate underwriting and expedite claims processes. QR codes allow farmers to register for insurance policies by pushing a few buttons. SMS messages relay immediate advice on when to apply fertilizer or top-dressing to maximize yields. This use of technology allows Pula to scale much faster than most insurance companies and to reach previously inaccessible communities.
“What do farmers really want? They don’t necessarily want insurance, but they do want fertilizer, they do want seeds,” says Rose. Pula’s short-term insurance products are revolutionary for many of its customers, especially considering how few of the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers have insurance. For Rose, the future means expanding Pula’s work to provide seeds, fertilizer, and insurance around the world.