Ecohorts Blog

Managing Financial risk in Farming

Posted in Finance in Farming by Administrator on the April 6th, 2008


Spring is probably the most celebrated season in the world. As it breaks the spell of winter in the Himalayan foothills the bloom in Cherry, Plums, Almonds, Pear and Apple trees is delighting the senses. Have a closer look around yourself (Is it really a happy time?) the deeds of mankind or perhaps the unforgiving cycles of nature have changed the outlook for the farming communities. There is anxiety in the eyes, the coffee house and neighborhood cafes are buzzing with bad news about hailstorms, excessive rains and other natural calamities ruining the bloom of spring and in turn hopes and livelihoods of millions, who depend on it.

Lately, the above scenarios have become more and more frequent. It is brewing a socio-economic crisis in the region. There is an exodus from rural areas to the cities in search of alternative career options for the younger generation. Rural unemployment is a major issue. This is creating additional pressure on the cities which are not equipped to handle such a large influx of migrants; the result is urban slums and poverty, food shortages due to reduced lands under cultivation.

Role of Finance

Firstly, farming needs to be looked at as a business (especially by farmers). Cutting edge farm technology is being put to use to improve productivity and quality of produce. On the one hand, the race for cutting edge farm practices and on the other hand there has hardly been any effort by the Government, financial institutions, development agencies or NGOs to reach out to the farmers and educate them about the financial instruments that are now so widespread in the west.

The only financial instruments Government has offered for decades are “crops loans” (or their variants) that have played a part in crippling the farming communities into debt traps and ultimately the Government into a Fiscal mess.

The recent drive by Himachal Pradesh Government, to include Apple and Citrus fruits in the Agriculture Insurance scheme is a positive step. I would like to discuss some Financial Instruments currently available and effectively used around the world that should be put to better use by the farming communities.

“Risks to farm revenues come from two sources: prices and yields. When both prices and yields are insured, so is the product of the two, farm revenues.” President Clinton, Economic Report to Congress, February 1995.

The key risks identified in the above statement are:
Price Risk: This refers to the impact of demand and supply equation of the markets. The supply is related to production risk, owing to weather conditions (deeds of God).The Government is providing minimum support prices for key crops and hence covering the costs to some extent. However, the support prices won’t even cover the cost of production and post harvest expenses in most cases. Price risks can be effectively managed by derivative instruments.

Production Risk:This should be considered as a complicated form of Price Risk because if the farmer doesn’t have the produce his revenues will be zero. Insurance can clearly cater to production risks.

The key instruments worth a discussion are as follows. Please note they are complicated financial instruments and the following discussion is just a brief introduction and shall not be considered conclusive in any way.

1. Crop Insurance
2. Futures and Options
3. Weather Derivatives

  • 1. Crop Insurance:
  • Crop Insurance is the simplest instrument for farmers. It’s purchased by farmers and others to protect themselves against natural disasters viz. hail storms, floods, droughts or the loss of income due to price fluctuations. The two key types of crop insurance are:

    Crop Yield/produce Insurance:

      Hail Storms:

    In the west (Germany and France) hail insurance was started by Co-operatives. Since hail is generally a limited peril and financial risk to private insurance companies is manageable; this has since been in the private domain in developed markets.

      Multi-calamity Insurance:

    This covers the larger/broader perils of drought, floods, disease etc. The earliest of such insurance was implemented in the U.S (1938). These are generally subsidized or provided by Government agencies.

    Crop Income/Revenue Insurance:

    This generally covers the price fluctuations that are rampant during the peak season. These are generally for intra season drops in prices rather than historical benchmarking. Historically benchmarked price support is generally offered by Government agencies and may more appropriately be classed as “support price.”