We wrote a post a few months ago about a paper that looks at how microinsurance affects decision-making. Specifically, the paper analyzed whether insuring farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India, against rainfall-related risks (too much or too little) affected their investment and production decisions. Another recent paper by Karlan, Osei, Osei-Akoto & Udry uses a similar approach and found similar results in northern Ghana.
In this experiment, farmers in northern Ghana were randomly assigned to receive cash grants, subsidized rainfall index insurance or simply offered the option to purchase insurance at actuarially fair rates. As in the Andhra Pradesh study, the authors find strong responses to investment to the subsidized rainfall insurance. When provided with insurance against one of the main risks they face, farmers find the resources to increase expenditures on their farms. Interestingly, they only found small effects of cash grants.
Karlan, et. al. also discuss the demand for rainfall insurance. They point out that take-up rates on rainfall insurance are low, which seems counterintuitive given that we know risk discourages investment, and investment often has large returns. To understand the demand for rainfall insurance, we have to keep in mind the various factors that drive demand. Of course, price is important but trust and experience matter as well. Demand is sensitive to whether farmers trust that payouts will be made. They found that demand for insurance increased after a farmer or someone in his network received a payout.
The study provides additional evidence that households are managing their finances by avoiding risks. In other words, they are smoothing their income by avoiding investments that could pay off but could go very sour. Reducing this risk-avoiding income smoothing through insurance seems to work well—if households can be convinced that the risk of the insurance (that an unfamiliar and relatively expensive product is reliable and worth the short-term cash cost) is less than the risk of the status quo.