Making networks work for policy: Evidence from agricultural technology adoption in Malawi

Making networks work for policy: Evidence from agricultural technology adoption in Malawi

Low productivity in agriculture and environmentally unsustainable farming challenges are pressing development challenges for many developing countries. Technologies that would minimize adverse environmental effects and increase long-term yields exist, but have yet to be adopted on a wide scale. As such, the slow adoption of agricultural technologies is a persistent puzzle in development economics. One potential constraint to adoption is lack of credible information.

Social relationships are recognized as important vectors for information sharing through which farmers learn about, and are then convinced to adopt, new agricultural technologies. Scarce resources demand that many governmental programs rely on this social diffusion to extend their reach: Extension agents can rarely train every farmer that they are responsible for, and instead must rely on training a few dissemination partners and expecting social diffusion to reach the rest. As a result, program efficacy will depend on how well matched that program is to the ambient social diffusion process, many aspects of which are both outside of the control of policy makers and poorly understood.

This suggests that there may be room for improvement in program design by optimizing the role that social diffusion will play following initial trainings. This report uses a large-scale field experiment in Malawi to evaluate whether integrating network theory on diffusion processes into extension provision increases adoption of a new agricultural technology that improves yields for farmers in arid regions of Africa and investigate what fraction of the gains from utilizing networks can be achieved by using a scalable, cost‐effective proxy measure of a farmer’s position in a social network.

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