Heterogeneous quality of agricultural commercial inputs and learning through experimentation

Project overview

Project lead: Karen Macours, Paris School of Economics

Start date: 1 July 2014

End date: 30 June 2017

Research Council project page

This project aimed to contribute to a better understanding of how agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa can be raised through: a) better access to information and regulation of input quality and b) adjustments in agricultural innovation process that account for context and behavioural constraints.

Three research questions were studied:

  • Is the heterogeneous and hidden quality of inputs a barrier to technology adoption? If so, would the best solution be: recommendation of interventions that guide the farmers toward the right inputs; regulation; or diffusion of information?
  • Do estimates regarding returns to new technologies provide biased estimates for the response to inputs in real life conditions? If so, what are the most important sources of such bias, and how can trials be designed to avoid them?
  • Does learning-by-doing and learning-from-others regarding new agricultural technologies differ depending on soils, skills and gender? And does this heterogeneity provide useful lessons for the design of more inclusive extension models, and on the role of own experimentation in such models?

Two Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT) were conducted in order to collect several rounds of panel data for the study of dynamic adoption processes. This was complemented by information from soil samples and by detailed information on farmers’ cognitive, non-cognitive and technical skills.