Rural demand for drought insurance
Many agricultural regions in the developing world are subject to severe droughts, which can have devastating effects on household incomes and consumption, especially for the poor. To protect consumption, rural households engage in many different risk management strategies - some mainly risk-reducing and some simply coping devices to protect consumption once income has been lost. An important limitation of these traditional risk management strategies is their inability to insure against covariate risks and they are also costly.. The absence of formal credit and insurance institutions, which offer an efficient alternative by overcoming regional covariance problems and reducing the cost of risk management, amounts to a market failure. Past research has paid much more attention to the supply-side reasons for this market failure than to the demand side question of whether there exist financial instruments that farmers want and would be willing to pay for. The authors use a dynamic household model to examine the efficiency of drought management strategies used by peasant households. An attractive feature of the method is that it exploits actual production (input-output) data and does not deal with the usually unreliable data on household consumption and leisure activities. The model is applied to a two-year panel of data on households from five villages in Tamil Nadu (South India). The sample is small, but the data are special, as one of the two years was a severe drought year. The results indicate that agricultural households exhibit significant risk-avoidance bahavior, and that even though they may use a range of risk management strategies, there still remains an unmet demand for insurance against drought risks. The study did not estimate the likely costs of supplying drought insurance, but the latent demand in the study region is strong enough to more than cover the breakeven rate of approximately the pure risk cost (the probability of drought) plus 5 percent administration costs. The findings confirm the inadequacies of traditional strategies of coping with droughts in poor rural areas. Because of the catastrophic and simultaneous effects of droughts on all households over large areas, there is limited scope for spreading risks effectively at the local level. Either households must increase their savings significantly (a problem with low average incomes and an absence of safe and convenient savings instruments), or more effective risk management aids are needed that can overcome the covariation problem. Improved financial markets (with both credit and savings facilities) could be helpful, particularly if they intermediate over a larger and more diverse economic base than the local economy. Alternatively, formal drought insurance in the form of a drought (or rainfall) lottery might be feasible, and the results suggest that it could be sold on a full-cost basis.
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