The lack of formal financial services in rural areas may inhibit farmers from saving, investing, and smoothing their consumption. Researchers analyzed the effect of reducing barriers to saving in rural Malawi on savings behavior, investment in agricultural inputs, and consumption. They found that farmers with access to formal savings accounts preserved greater amounts of savings throughout both the harvest and planting seasons.

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Small-scale farming accounts for over 90 percent of agricultural output in Sub-Saharan Africa, and agricultural productivity on these farms is low, on average.  Contractually linking farmers to buyers may improve farmer profits and stimulate economic growth, but more evidence is needed on how these agreements impact farmers’ livelihoods and the crops they grow.

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Farmers across the developing world face risk from hazards such as weather, pests, and crop disease, but largely lack insurance to manage these risks. One reason for this lack of viable insurance products may be that farmers know their plots and risks better than insurers, and react accordingly. In the Philippines, researchers offered insurance on randomly assigned plots to farmers, and found that farmers preferred to insure the plots that faced more risk.

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Why do so few people use fertilizer even though it can considerably improve yields? This project measures the increase in yield due to fertilizer and hybrid seed use in Western Kenya. It found that fertilizer is profitable, and providing information goes part of the way towards increasing fertilizer adoption. Programs that help farmers commit when they have money to use fertilizer in the future have a very large impact on fertilizer adoption. 

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When smallholder farmers see how fertilizer increases their yields, they may continue using it. In this study in Mozambique, where very few farmers use agricultural inputs, researchers evaluate if giving farmers fertilizer subsidies encourages them to continue using fertilizer when subsidies run out. This study also measures the impact of coupling the subsidies with different types of savings accounts.

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Poor subsistence farmers often see adoption of new technologies, such as hybrid seeds, as risky because they fear the up-front investment will not pay off and they could be worse off, particularly in the case of drought. Yet new technologies can help farmers produce more food. So what happens if the risk of trying a new technology is removed? Few studies have evaluated whether providing insurance can increase the adoption of profitable agricultural technologies.

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Many agricultural technologies with demonstrated productivity gains are not adopted by farmers. Without reliable and persuasive sources of information, farmers may hesitate to adopt new inputs and techniques. Researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to test the impact of leveraging social networks to disseminate information about two technologies, pit planting and “Chinese composting,” on farmers’ adoption of these methods.
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In sub-Saharan Africa, many of the region’s poor are small-scale farmers. While certain agronomic practices, such as pruning tree crops, can substantially increase yields, take-up of many such practices remains low, potentially resulting in lower yields and profits. In Rwanda, researchers worked with TechnoServe to evaluate the impact of an agronomy training program on farmers’ knowledge and use of best practices in coffee-growing.

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New agricultural technologies, such as high-yielding crop varieties, offer the promise of increased productivity, but adoption of these technologies has often been slow, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In Sierra Leone, researchers are testing whether price subsidies and agricultural extension training can reduce the costs of early adoption, and whether using the improved seed varieties will ultimately benefit poor farmers.

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