In a changing climate, technology provides a lifeline for farmers

Why we’re investing in Pula to support agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia

By Rob Stevens and Amee Parbhoo

A farmer on his phone in a field appreciates Pula's agricultural insuranceSmallholder farmers are the bedrock of sub-Saharan Africa’s and Asia’s agricultural markets, providing over 80 percent of the food supply, but they are growing increasingly vulnerable. Climate scientists estimate that over the next few decades, droughts will frequently affect Africa and Asia as a result of climate change. As weather conditions cause decreased stability for family farms, there is an increased need for risk mitigation solutions that can add security to the lives of those most affected.

Pula, one of Accion Venture Lab’s latest investments, provides insurance to smallholder farmers across Africa and India, enabling income security for a population whose livelihoods depend on climate patterns. Pula uses cutting-edge technology coupled with expansive distribution partners to make large-scale agricultural insurance feasible for rural farmers.

Across their product portfolio, Pula uses various technologies, including automated voice calls to register customers, satellite imagery to monitor cloud cover, and SMS messages to provide agronomic advice. In the event of a drought or poor season, Pula uses weather data and yield samples to offer compensation to farmers for their losses. By coupling technology with large-scale distribution, Pula can make insurance practical for smallholder farmers at scale.

At Venture Lab, we’re most excited about a few core areas of the typical microinsurance value chain that Pula disrupts:

Eliminating the purchase barrier: Pula’s distribution model circumvents the challenges of customer adoption and education that we’ve seen insurers struggle with in the past. Customers read about Pula’s coverage on a sticker on the bag of seed or fertilizer they’re purchasing, and then they register their unique policy via their mobile phone. Pula’s partners put stickers on every bag sold in a region, and there’s no visible added cost to the products, simplifying the farmer’s decision-making process. To that farmer, Pula’s coverage is easy to activate and presents pure upside.

Increasing yields for customers with massive need: Pula focuses on some of the most vulnerable populations on Earth, and the insurance coverage is only the beginning of the benefit they receive from the product. By de-risking the purchase of farm inputs, such as seed, fertilizer, or credit, Pula is also able to incentivize farmers to purchase higher-quality products than they otherwise might — without the risk of failure. As a result, they can attain higher yields and incomes. Further, Pula provides the farmer with direct agronomic advice via SMS, leveraging the farmer’s GPS coordinates and their climate science team, and boosting the farmer’s yields.

Lowering the cost to serve: With its innovative distribution, Pula has the potential to reach a customer that has previously been prohibitively expensive to serve. Formerly, insuring smallholder farmers required multiple field visits to determine if conditions were right for crops to grow and to educate the farmer about the benefits of insurance, ultimately convincing them to pay for coverage. Pula can automate and significantly cut costs by assessing the farm’s weather remotely using satellite and regional yield data. Working through distributors also enables Pula to offer free and straightforward insurance coverage that is fully integrated with the input.

Venture Lab is thrilled to be working with the Pula team on their mission to provide insurance to smallholder farmers across Africa and Asia. Co-founder Rose Goslinga is a pioneer in the space, with a decade of experience and a TED talk on her resume. She is working alongside Thomas Njeru, who provides actuarial experience and financial expertise as the company’s CFO.

As microinsurance in most African markets hovers at or below 5 percent, there is a massive market opportunity to support the world’s most vulnerable as they grow food to provide for their communities. Pula tackles the arduous task of customer awareness by partnering with known brands and uses cutting-edge technology to make the product scalable. Half of the world’s hungry are farming families, and Pula strives to reach those most in need with security and stability.

Venture Lab is excited to be supporting Pula as they take on one of the world’s most significant challenges.

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