Index Insurance and Cash Transfers: A Comparative Analysis from Northern Kenya
Cash transfers and index insurance have become popular interventions by development agencies worldwide. But they operate in radically different ways. In principle, these could offer complementary or substitute means of improving households’ well-being, both through direct payments and through induced behavioral change. Surprisingly, little is known about these programs’ comparative impacts on participant behavior or well-being, nor about their prospective interactions. This paper exploits four years of household panel data from northern Kenya, where the government launched a Hunger Safety Net Program (HSNP) offering cash transfers just prior to the commercial launch of an index-based livestock insurance (IBLI) product. By exploiting the known selection mechanism behind HSNP participation and the randomization of IBLI extension education and premium discounts, we are able to make novel comparisons of the causal impacts of each type of program among the same population at the same time, which spans a catastrophic drought. We find that both programs benefit participants, but there is no evidence of positive synergies between the two programs. HSNP participation increases the likelihood that a household maintains mobility, an important pastoral production strategy, and improves child health, as indicated by a mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC). IBLI coverage increases expenditures on livestock health services, milk production, MUAC, and income per adult equivalent. Standardizing the estimated benefits by total program costs reveals that the two programs perform comparably, while from a marginal cost perspective the IBLI program has impacts per unit of expenditure at least an order of magnitude greater than HSNP.