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Basis Risk and the Welfare Gains from Index Insurance: Evidence from Northern Kenya

Jensen, Nathaniel D. and Barrett, Christopher B. and Mude, Andrew G. (2014): Basis Risk and the Welfare Gains from Index Insurance: Evidence from Northern Kenya.

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Abstract

Index insurance products circumvent many of the transaction costs and asymmetric information problems that obstruct provision of low value conventional insurance policies in developing countries. Recent years have seen tremendous growth in index insurance pilots in developing countries, but there has been little progress in our understanding of the quality of those products. Basis risk, or remaining uninsured risk, is a widely recognized, but rarely measured drawback of index insurance that carries significant implications for the quality of any such product. This research uses a rich longitudinal household dataset to examine basis risk associated with an index based livestock insurance (IBLI) product available to pastoralists in northern Kenya since 2010. We find that IBLI coverage reduces downside risk for most households when purchased at actuarially fair premium rates and has net utility benefits for most even at commercial rates. Examining the components of basis risk, we find that IBLI reduces exposure to covariate risk due to high loss events by an average of 62.8%. The benefits of reduced covariate risk exposure are relatively small, however, due to high exposure to seemingly mostly random idiosyncratic risk, even in this population often thought to suffer largely from covariate shocks. Depending on covariate region, IBLI policy holders are left with an average of between 62.3% and 76.7% of their original risk due to high loss events. This research underscores the need for caution when promoting index insurance as a tool for reducing exposure to risk and the importance of ex post product evaluation.

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