Insuring the Ensurers: A New Insurance Project Protects the Fishers Who Feed the World
It's better that we have insurance to have peace of mind. No matter what happens to us, our family can claim something."
Recson Romano, Coastal Fisher from the Philippines (Bindoy, Negros Oriental)
Around the world, small-scale fishing is a risky business—no less so in the Philippines, where 1.4 million coastal fishers, like Rochie Monteloya, and millions more around the world rely on the sea but lack insurance against risk. “The sea provides our regular household income and our daily needs,” Rochie says. “But nowadays, there are more fishers and solid waste in the ocean with less fish to catch.”
Rochie and fishers across the islands hit on the great irony of the small-scale fishing sector, which globally employs over 250 million people and feeds a billion: no safety net for themselves. Despite the multitude of challenges—declining fish stocks, more fishers, intensifying weather events, illegal fishing, weak fisheries management, encroaching high-seas commercial fishers, a persistent pandemic, and unstable markets—most workers in this vital sector of the blue economy lack financial literacy or access to basic insurance to protect them against shocks and uncertainties.
That’s why in late 2020, Rare, through its coastal fisheries program, Fish Forever, partnered with the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA) to pilot an insurance initiative for the Philippines’ small-scale fishing sector.
“Financially literate and resilient communities can reduce the drivers to overfish, be more adaptive in the face of climate change, and participate more fully in managing their fisheries for sustainability,” says Flora Belinario, Rare’s Project Lead in the Philippines. “With a stronger safety net, they can also make decisions based on long-term interest rather than short-term gains or fears.”
The Pilot: Advancing Insurance Options and Economic Inclusion
To start, Rare assessed the unique insurance needs of fishing-dependent households and the landscape of available products in seven different coastal communities across the Philippines. Rare then partnered with local insurance providers to offer two policies—one private-sector product and one government-owned and subsidized—providing life, accident, property damage, and healthcare coverage.
Hazel Ann T. Aviso, a government Fisheries Technician in Bindoy, explains the fisheries insurance plan offered in her municipality: “Fisherfolk or fish farmers must register with their IDs for the free insurance. Coverage ranges from inland fishponds, fish cages, and boats to the fisherfolks themselves. Most fisherfolks buy the P50 insurance, which covers accidents and dismemberment.”
Despite delays and restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the project enrolled over 4,000 members in basic livelihood insurance—significantly exceeding the pilot’s aim of 500. Rare also successfully delivered insurance literacy training to over 2,760 participants using remote learning platforms and a combination of virtual and in-person training.
“As an insurance agent, one of my goals is to encourage fisherfolks and members of savings clubs to get insurance to secure a better future for themselves and their loved ones,” says Shirly Coraza, an agent in Camotes, Cebu. “I also educate our members about having insurance and the benefits they can get from being insured.”
The pilot builds on Rare’s Fish Forever program and has leveraged over 90 of the 350 community savings clubs set up by Rare across the Philippines. Using these savings clubs as a conduit to promote the policies and enroll people has been key to the pilot’s success.
“As the President of my savings club, we all discussed and agreed that members must have insurance, and payment will come from our social fund so that we don’t use savings,” said Rochie Monteloya, from Lubang, Occidental Mindoro. “We’ll also use the funds to pay for our renewal.”
Rare also involved local government agents and employed targeted communications campaigns that used referral incentives, branded merchandise, and posters in village stores to build the foundation for the work and spread awareness and trust.
It felt really good to insure these people because as a government employee, I can feel that we are doing our part to help them.”
“It is really important that our fishers are covered by insurance so that they can depend on something when emergency strikes,” said Nieva Grace Desullan, Local Government Officer from Libertad in the Office of Municipal Agriculture. “It felt really good to insure these people because as a government employee, I can feel that we are doing our part to help them.” Nieva is also the point person for the government-owned insurance company, PCIC.
The Challenges of Offering Insurance
Primary challenges to offering insurance to fishing communities boiled down to four ‘C’s: the concept of insurance, complexities of coverage, COVID-19, and costs (transactional and financial).
The concept of insurance was new to most of the targeted coastal fishing communities. Thus, barriers to overcoming this challenge included helping fishers realize and understand the insurance offering, and, sometimes, overcoming negative experiences related to past coverage. Rare and partners (savings club leaders and local government unit officers) developed materials that reinforced the insurance campaign, delivered targeted messages about the potential benefits of coverage, led literacy training and accessible recruitment processes, and solicited the trust from fishers necessary for enrollment.
Further, the transaction costs of delivering comprehensive insurance to rural communities are quite high, and the insurance premiums can be an enrollment barrier. Private insurance providers may not have a local, on-the-ground presence, so they had to accredit local agents, which takes time; further, the risk of contracting COVID-19 for in-person communications and minimal incentives to sell insurance limited the labor pool interested in accreditation. Given this scenario, Rare relied mainly on the government-owned insurance company’s options instead of private, comprehensive coverage and leveraged our strong connections with local government officers to encourage active participation in enrolment and claim monitoring.
As to costs born by fishers, fishers preferred minimal individual coverage (life and accident), given the high perceived costs of private insurance ($4 – $20/month), despite the comprehensiveness of the coverage (life, accident and medical reimbursements, and a onetime annual cost for a family for a year. Rare will seek alternative insurance partners who offer monthly premiums at low cost and work with private insurance providers on ways to decrease their transaction costs for them to offer a product comparable to what the government can offer.
Insurance Benefits Women and the Sector’s Future
Rare estimates that the livelihood protection offered by the insurance program will benefit some 12,500 fisheries-dependent people in the Philippines, over 6,000 of whom will be children. With so many women working in fisheries and using savings clubs, 57% of the pilot’s enrollees were female. This strategy was deliberate: women’s fisheries-related work earnings depend on unpredictable harvests and inconsistent market prices, making insurance an important tool to secure their families’ income and well-being.
In just one year and despite the pandemic’s challenging context, Rare’s pilot highlights the success of a targeted, community-based, and gender-sensitive strategy in providing a vital financial safety net to remote communities. It also showcases the potential of financial literacy and tailored insurance to advance the economic inclusion and resilience of the millions of people who make up a vast and sustainable sector of the blue economy but are uniquely vulnerable to changes in our ocean and climate.
Rare’s focus is to incorporate the pilot’s lessons and replicate and scale its approach across the Philippines and seven other countries where Rare’s Fish Forever program currently works with over 1,000 communities. Rare and other ORRAA partners are exploring additional methods to reach various groups employed across the small-scale fisheries value chain and new ways to build or enhance partnerships with local insurance providers and government agencies.
By building a model that’s applicable and scalable to remote coastal communities worldwide, this work will be vital in delivering ORRAA’s long-term ambition to build the economic resilience of millions of people whose futures are threatened by mounting ocean-related risks.