Space tech provides Africa's first Islamic insurance for herders

Space tech provides Africa's first Islamic insurance for herders

WAJIR, Kenya - The son of a camel herder, Hassan Bashir knows how tough traditional life in Kenya's arid north is, where pastoralists rely on livestock herds surviving boom and bust cycles of drought.

But Bashir is also an astute entrepreneur, developing Africa's first livestock insurance scheme to make payouts compliant with Islamic law, by bringing together Muslim scholars and number-crunching agricultural experts using NASA weather satellites.

"I've come from the community, and I understand its needs," said Bashir, a sharp-suited businessman respectfully greeting elders dressed in traditional flowing robes in his hometown of Wajir, where goats and donkeys wander the dusty streets.

Bashir, 48, set up Takaful Insurance of Africa three years ago which, unlike ordinary insurance schemes prohibited by Islam, takes only a management fee from clients.

"It is a fair and ethical way to protect pastoralists' livestock assets from natural hazards," said Bashir, whose 80-year-old father was one of the first to receive a payout this week for his herd of 50 cows.

Payments are assessed not according to deaths of individual animals as it would be impossible to provide proof, but according to an index drawn up by experts at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), using satellites to measure vegetation coverage and thus the severity of drought.

Community 'welfare basket'

The company is named after the Islamic concept of takaful, in which risks are shared among the community. Any surplus money after payments are made is distributed equally to remaining policyholders.

"It is a cooperative welfare basket for the community," added Bashir, who was inspired to switch from regular insurance broking to the Islamic system after "hot discussions" with his family who refused his "unethical" money.

"I wanted to do something to develop the people here," he said.

In 2011, fierce drought in northeastern Kenya had a devastating impact on herds and spiralled into famine in nearby war-torn Somalia.

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