African Small Businesses, Farmers Get Protection with Micro-Insurance

George Kamau Githome uses a feather duster to clean off hardware and bootleg movies displayed for sale at his kiosk in Mathare, one of Nairobi, Kenya’s largest slums.

Githome and his family of 10 kids recently lost everything they owned in a fire. But he was able to rebuild because he had purchased micro-insurance, a new product making inroads among small-scale African farmers and business owners.

“When they came, they took photos, and saw how helpless I was. I had nothing,” he said. “Then they paid off my loan and supported me with something small. I started this business you see out here and the result you see inside.”

Most African farmers and small businesses operate with no way to protect themselves if disaster strikes. Insurers have been slow to tailor their products to the African continent, experts say, and their methods of operation, using complex contracts distributed through networks of agents, tends to only reach the urban elite.

But that may be starting to change. A handful of companies are now offering inexpensive, tech-driven micro-insurance and are making it easy for ordinary Africans to sign up.

 

The company Githome used, MicroEnsure, offers micro-insurance to small-business owners, ranging from farmers in the bush to small kiosk owners in downtown Nairobi.

 

The East Africa regional director for MicroEnsure, Kiereini Kirika, says mobile technology makes micro-insurance cheaper and easy to use.

“We enable them to be able to enroll as simple as using their mobile phone just by dialing a particular short code on their phone and then registering their product just by using their first name and their last name,” he said.

Henry Jaru, a smallholder farmer in northern Nigeria, is buying micro-insurance from another company, Pula, to protect his family farm from the impacts of poor rainfall, army worm infestations and other threats to their crops.

“Normally by this time the crops would have gone far but you see we’re still planting some of them,” he said. “So I think, we’re hoping that [will protect us if] we experience any shortcoming from the rain or the worms this year.”

 

Pula insures groups of farmers, using publicly available satellite data to track weather patterns, assess the risk and set prices.

 

“When Pula came into the country, they came with the idea of an index insurance, which means that you don’t need to necessarily visit every smallholder farmers,” said Samson Ajibola, Pula’s senior project manager in Nigeria. “You can insure aggregation of farmers under just one policy without necessarily needing to visit each of them.”

Pula also bundles the policies into small loans or purchases of fertilizer so small-hold farmers are automatically insured.

 

But older farmers, like Jaru’s father Thomas, are still skeptical because of bad experiences with insurance companies.

 

“Generally when the time comes for them to pay you, indemnify you, you will not find them,” said Thomas Jaru. “They begin to show you the small print — you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that out of the policy. So, it can ruin the whole thing and people get discouraged.”

 

Micro-insurance providers hope their services can change that perception  and turn a profit while giving Africa’s small farmers and businesses some protection if and when things go wrong.

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African Small Businesses, Farmers Get Protection with Micro-Insurance

George Kamau Githome uses a feather duster to clean off hardware and bootleg movies displayed for sale at his kiosk in Mathare, one of Nairobi, Kenya’s largest slums.

Githome and his family of 10 kids recently lost everything they owned in a fire. But he was able to rebuild because he had purchased micro-insurance, a new product making inroads among small-scale African farmers and business owners.

“When they came, they took photos, and saw how helpless I was. I had nothing,” he said. “Then they paid off my loan and supported me with something small. I started this business you see out here and the result you see inside.”

Most African farmers and small businesses operate with no way to protect themselves if disaster strikes. Insurers have been slow to tailor their products to the African continent, experts say, and their methods of operation, using complex contracts distributed through networks of agents, tends to only reach the urban elite.

But that may be starting to change. A handful of companies are now offering inexpensive, tech-driven micro-insurance and are making it easy for ordinary Africans to sign up.

 

The company Githome used, MicroEnsure, offers micro-insurance to small-business owners, ranging from farmers in the bush to small kiosk owners in downtown Nairobi.

 

The East Africa regional director for MicroEnsure, Kiereini Kirika, says mobile technology makes micro-insurance cheaper and easy to use.

“We enable them to be able to enroll as simple as using their mobile phone just by dialing a particular short code on their phone and then registering their product just by using their first name and their last name,” he said.

Henry Jaru, a smallholder farmer in northern Nigeria, is buying micro-insurance from another company, Pula, to protect his family farm from the impacts of poor rainfall, army worm infestations and other threats to their crops.

“Normally by this time the crops would have gone far but you see we’re still planting some of them,” he said. “So I think, we’re hoping that [will protect us if] we experience any shortcoming from the rain or the worms this year.”

 

Pula insures groups of farmers, using publicly available satellite data to track weather patterns, assess the risk and set prices.

 

“When Pula came into the country, they came with the idea of an index insurance, which means that you don’t need to necessarily visit every smallholder farmers,” said Samson Ajibola, Pula’s senior project manager in Nigeria. “You can insure aggregation of farmers under just one policy without necessarily needing to visit each of them.”

Pula also bundles the policies into small loans or purchases of fertilizer so small-hold farmers are automatically insured.

 

But older farmers, like Jaru’s father Thomas, are still skeptical because of bad experiences with insurance companies.

 

“Generally when the time comes for them to pay you, indemnify you, you will not find them,” said Thomas Jaru. “They begin to show you the small print — you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that out of the policy. So, it can ruin the whole thing and people get discouraged.”

 

Micro-insurance providers hope their services can change that perception  and turn a profit while giving Africa’s small farmers and businesses some protection if and when things go wrong.

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From Cancers to Obesity, Small Implant May Replace Life-Saving Drugs

Remembering to take medications can be challenging for some people. But one day an implant may replace medications that need to be taken orally in certain cases. One lab in Houston is developing refillable implants placed under the skin to potentially deliver life-saving medicine at a low cost for various diseases. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

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From Cancers to Obesity, Small Implant May Replace Life-Saving Drugs

Remembering to take medications can be challenging for some people. But one day an implant may replace medications that need to be taken orally in certain cases. One lab in Houston is developing refillable implants placed under the skin to potentially deliver life-saving medicine at a low cost for various diseases. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

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Pompeo: N. Korea Weapons Work Counter to Denuclearization Pledge

Less than two months after a landmark U.S.-North Korea summit in  Singapore, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew back to the city state on Friday and suggested that continued work on weapons programs by North Korea was inconsistent with its leader’s commitment to denuclearize.

Pompeo was asked en route to Singapore about his statement in the U.S. Senate last month that North Korea was continuing to make bomb fuel and reports that North Korea, led by Kim Jong Un, was building new missiles.

“Chairman Kim made a commitment to denuclearize,” Pompeo told reporters. “The world demanded that they [North Korea] do so in the U.N. Security Council resolutions. To the extent they are behaving in a manner inconsistent with that, they are a) in violation of one or both the U.N. Security Council resolutions and b) we can see we still have a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome we’re looking for.”

Pompeo thanked ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a meeting in Singapore for their efforts in enforcing sanctions on North Korea.

In a landmark summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12, Kim, who is seeking relief from tough sanctions, committed to work towards denuclearization, but Pyongyang has offered no details on how it might go about this.

Pompeo told a Senate committee hearing on July 25 that North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs in spite of its pledge.

Renewed activity

On Monday, a senior U.S. official said U.S. spy satellites had detected renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that North Korea appeared to be building one or two new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles at the research facility, citing unidentified officials familiar with intelligence reporting.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho is also in Singapore and will attend the same regional meeting as Pompeo on Saturday, but the State Department has not said whether the two will meet.

Following his talks with Ri, China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said he hoped North Korea and the United States would continue to move forward to implement their leaders’ agreement.

“China all along has believed that the consensus reached by U.S. and North Korea’s leaders meeting in Singapore is very precious,” Wang told reporters.

“That is, at the same time as realizing denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, to establish a peace mechanism. This direction is without a doubt correct,” he said.

China is North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic supporter and fought for the North in the 1950-53 Korean War against the U.S.-led United Nations forces that backed South Korea.

Previous talks

Pompeo, who has led the U.S. negotiating effort with North Korea, visited Pyongyang from July 5-7 for inclusive talks aimed at agreeing a  denuclearization roadmap. Pompeo said at the time he had made progress on key issues, only for North Korea to accuse his delegation hours later of making “gangster-like” demands.

Trump hailed the Singapore summit as a success and went as far as saying that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat, but questions have been mounting about Pyongyang’s willingness to give up its weapons programs.

Trump has pointed to North Korea’s freeze on nuclear and missile tests and its agreement to return the remains of American troops killed in the 1950-53 Korea War.

The White House said on Thursday Trump had received a letter from Kim and had responded with a note that should be delivered shortly. But it said no second meeting was currently planned.

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China Threatens New Tariffs as Pompeo Meets with China’s FM

China warned Friday it would impose new tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods if the Trump administration follows through with its latest trade threats.

The Commerce Ministry said the proposed tariffs of 5 percent to 25 percent on more than 5,200 U.S. goods are restrained and maintained it has the right to take retaliatory action in the escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

China’s warning came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Friday with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Singapore. The two men did not speak to the press after the meeting, and reporters were ushered out of the room before the talks began.

On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Minister told reporters the U.S. needed to calm down and consider its own consumers, responding to threats by the Trump administration to raise its proposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from the initially planned 10 percent to 25 percent. Wang Yi said raising tariffs would hurt U.S. consumers and businesses located in China.

“Instead of achieving one’s own goal by doing this, we believe it will only hurt one’s own interests,” said Wang.

The U.S. says it wants China to stop stealing U.S. corporate secrets and stop subsidizing Chinese companies with cheap loans that give them an unfair advantage.

Natural disasters

Before meeting with Wang, Pompeo co-chaired an ASEAN ministerial meeting with Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Pompeo started off by expressing his sorrow for a number of devastating natural disasters in the region.

“On behalf of the United States, let me also offer my condolences to the people of Laos for the loss of life and devastation caused by the dam breach,” said Pompeo.

He said the U.S. government is providing assistance to respond to this disaster and welcomes the support already provided by the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center. Pompeo also expressed his condolences to Indonesia, where a powerful earthquake struck; and to Myanmar, for the casualties suffered in recent flooding and landslides.

Security issues

Economic opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region are a major focus of Pompeo’s visit, but security issues also are high on the agenda of the ASEAN meetings, as Pompeo made clear.

“On security, we appreciate ASEAN’s ongoing efforts to promote peace and stability in the region, support the rule of law in the South China Sea, and to strictly enforce sanctions on North Korea. We are also working with ASEAN member-states to counter the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in the region.”

Pompeo wrapped up a full day with a meeting with Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, at the Istana in Singapore.

Malaysia visit

He started his Southeast Asia tour Thursday in Malaysia.

Pompeo was the first senior U.S. official to visit Malaysia since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took office following a May election dubbed “quite historic” by a senior State Department official. Pompeo met with Mahathir early Friday, and congratulated the people of Malaysia on their democratic transition.

It was the first stop of his Asian tour, focused on promoting free trade and pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. After holding ASEAN meetings in Singapore, Pompeo will head to Indonesia.

Detained pastor

Earlier Friday in Singapore, Pompeo met with his Turkish counterpart in an effort to obtain the release of Andrew Brunson, a detained U.S. pastor who Turkey accuses of backing terrorism. The Trump administration has placed sanctions on Turkish officials because of Brunson’s detention. Turkey says the sanctions are unacceptable.

Pompeo and Mevlut Cavusoglu met on the sidelines of a meeting of regional ministers in Singapore.

The top U.S. diplomat said “Brunson needs to come home, as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people.”

Turkey has also detained three Turkish employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

The Turkish foreign ministry has called the sanctions a “disrespectful intervention in our legal system” that would harm “the constructive efforts toward resolving problems between the two countries.”

Wayne Lee, William Gallo and Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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China Threatens New Tariffs as Pompeo Meets with China’s FM

China warned Friday it would impose new tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods if the Trump administration follows through with its latest trade threats.

The Commerce Ministry said the proposed tariffs of 5 percent to 25 percent on more than 5,200 U.S. goods are restrained and maintained it has the right to take retaliatory action in the escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

China’s warning came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Friday with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Singapore. The two men did not speak to the press after the meeting, and reporters were ushered out of the room before the talks began.

On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Minister told reporters the U.S. needed to calm down and consider its own consumers, responding to threats by the Trump administration to raise its proposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from the initially planned 10 percent to 25 percent. Wang Yi said raising tariffs would hurt U.S. consumers and businesses located in China.

“Instead of achieving one’s own goal by doing this, we believe it will only hurt one’s own interests,” said Wang.

The U.S. says it wants China to stop stealing U.S. corporate secrets and stop subsidizing Chinese companies with cheap loans that give them an unfair advantage.

Natural disasters

Before meeting with Wang, Pompeo co-chaired an ASEAN ministerial meeting with Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Pompeo started off by expressing his sorrow for a number of devastating natural disasters in the region.

“On behalf of the United States, let me also offer my condolences to the people of Laos for the loss of life and devastation caused by the dam breach,” said Pompeo.

He said the U.S. government is providing assistance to respond to this disaster and welcomes the support already provided by the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center. Pompeo also expressed his condolences to Indonesia, where a powerful earthquake struck; and to Myanmar, for the casualties suffered in recent flooding and landslides.

Security issues

Economic opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region are a major focus of Pompeo’s visit, but security issues also are high on the agenda of the ASEAN meetings, as Pompeo made clear.

“On security, we appreciate ASEAN’s ongoing efforts to promote peace and stability in the region, support the rule of law in the South China Sea, and to strictly enforce sanctions on North Korea. We are also working with ASEAN member-states to counter the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in the region.”

Pompeo wrapped up a full day with a meeting with Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, at the Istana in Singapore.

Malaysia visit

He started his Southeast Asia tour Thursday in Malaysia.

Pompeo was the first senior U.S. official to visit Malaysia since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took office following a May election dubbed “quite historic” by a senior State Department official. Pompeo met with Mahathir early Friday, and congratulated the people of Malaysia on their democratic transition.

It was the first stop of his Asian tour, focused on promoting free trade and pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. After holding ASEAN meetings in Singapore, Pompeo will head to Indonesia.

Detained pastor

Earlier Friday in Singapore, Pompeo met with his Turkish counterpart in an effort to obtain the release of Andrew Brunson, a detained U.S. pastor who Turkey accuses of backing terrorism. The Trump administration has placed sanctions on Turkish officials because of Brunson’s detention. Turkey says the sanctions are unacceptable.

Pompeo and Mevlut Cavusoglu met on the sidelines of a meeting of regional ministers in Singapore.

The top U.S. diplomat said “Brunson needs to come home, as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people.”

Turkey has also detained three Turkish employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

The Turkish foreign ministry has called the sanctions a “disrespectful intervention in our legal system” that would harm “the constructive efforts toward resolving problems between the two countries.”

Wayne Lee, William Gallo and Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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US Presses Turkey to Release Detained US Pastor

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Turkish counterpart Friday in an effort to obtain the release of Andrew Brunson, a detained U.S. pastor who Turkey accuses of backing terrorism. The Trump administration has placed sanctions on Turkish officials because of Brunson’s detention. Turkey says the sanctions are unacceptable.

Pompeo and Mevlut Cavusoglu met on the sidelines of a meeting of regional ministers in Singapore.

Pompeo told reporters traveling with him before the meeting that the U.S. has warned Turkey “that the clock had run out and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned.”

The top U.S. diplomat said, “Brunson needs to come home as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people.”

Turkey has also detained three Turkish employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

US sanctions

The Turkish foreign ministry has called the sanctions a “disrespectful intervention in our legal system” that would harm “the constructive efforts toward resolving problems between the two countries.”

The American pastor is on trial on terrorism and espionage charges for alleged links to followers of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Ankara for the 2016 failed coup and whom Turkey is seeking to extradite.

Last month, in a move widely seen as a gesture to Washington, Brunson was moved to house arrest after nearly two years in jail. But U.S. President Donald Trump is demanding Brunson’s return to America. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists Brunson’s detention is a matter for the courts.

Washington accuses Ankara of hostage-taking, claiming the pastor’s detention is part of efforts to extract concessions over several disputes between the countries.

Pompeo’​s Asian tour

Pompeo was in Malaysia Thursday. It was the first stop of his Asian tour expected to focus on promoting free trade and pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Since President Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, U.S. officials have been optimistic that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear weapons, though there is no evidence the North has begun that process.

Concerns over ongoing nuclear and missile activity in North Korea surged after The Washington Post reported Tuesday that U.S. intelligence officials believe Pyongyang is continuing to build new missiles in the same research facility it used to build intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States.

During his meetings with ASEAN counterparts in Singapore this week, Pompeo is also expected to discuss conflicts in the South China Sea, the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and cybersecurity.

Pompeo is the first senior U.S. official to visit Malaysia since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was took office following a May election dubbed “quite historic” by a senior State Department official.

VOA’s William Gallo and Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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US Presses Turkey to Release Detained US Pastor

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Turkish counterpart Friday in an effort to obtain the release of Andrew Brunson, a detained U.S. pastor who Turkey accuses of backing terrorism. The Trump administration has placed sanctions on Turkish officials because of Brunson’s detention. Turkey says the sanctions are unacceptable.

Pompeo and Mevlut Cavusoglu met on the sidelines of a meeting of regional ministers in Singapore.

Pompeo told reporters traveling with him before the meeting that the U.S. has warned Turkey “that the clock had run out and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned.”

The top U.S. diplomat said, “Brunson needs to come home as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people.”

Turkey has also detained three Turkish employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

US sanctions

The Turkish foreign ministry has called the sanctions a “disrespectful intervention in our legal system” that would harm “the constructive efforts toward resolving problems between the two countries.”

The American pastor is on trial on terrorism and espionage charges for alleged links to followers of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Ankara for the 2016 failed coup and whom Turkey is seeking to extradite.

Last month, in a move widely seen as a gesture to Washington, Brunson was moved to house arrest after nearly two years in jail. But U.S. President Donald Trump is demanding Brunson’s return to America. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists Brunson’s detention is a matter for the courts.

Washington accuses Ankara of hostage-taking, claiming the pastor’s detention is part of efforts to extract concessions over several disputes between the countries.

Pompeo’​s Asian tour

Pompeo was in Malaysia Thursday. It was the first stop of his Asian tour expected to focus on promoting free trade and pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Since President Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, U.S. officials have been optimistic that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear weapons, though there is no evidence the North has begun that process.

Concerns over ongoing nuclear and missile activity in North Korea surged after The Washington Post reported Tuesday that U.S. intelligence officials believe Pyongyang is continuing to build new missiles in the same research facility it used to build intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States.

During his meetings with ASEAN counterparts in Singapore this week, Pompeo is also expected to discuss conflicts in the South China Sea, the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and cybersecurity.

Pompeo is the first senior U.S. official to visit Malaysia since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was took office following a May election dubbed “quite historic” by a senior State Department official.

VOA’s William Gallo and Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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