For many smallholder farmers in the developing world, agro-dealers serve as providers of basic extension services to farmers, creating an invaluable source of knowledge and advice to farmers. Government extension services typically rely on farmer-to-farmer learning to diffuse information, which may require additional incentives in order to be effective. In the case of agro-dealers, who typically sell seeds fertilizers and agrochemicals, the potential for additional sales creates the motivation to diffuse information about new technologies such as improved seed varieties. Therefore, providing extension services to agro-dealers and relying on them to disseminate information to potential customers could be more cost effective than providing extension services directly to individual farmers. Can engaging directly with the private sector in disseminating information to farmers about improved seed varieties lead to higher adoption of these potentially profitable technologies?
Context of the Evaluation
Previous research funded by ATAI found that Swarna Sub-1, a submergence tolerant rice variety released in India in 2009, reduces yield losses under flooding conditions while leaving yields unaffected during non-flood years. Much of the land on the coastal belt of Odisha, a state in eastern India where this evaluation took place, is prone to flooding. In theory, farmers in Odisha could benefit from substantially from adopting Swarna-Sub1, however only around 20 percent of farmers in the state use Swarna Sub-1 as of 2015. When surveyed about their decision to adopt or not, farmers noted that they did not have information about the new variety or that there was a lack of access to seeds, suggesting that the current system of agricultural extension services and seed supply are not effective in enabling farmers to adopt a proven technological innovation.
Details of the Intervention
In partnership with Odisha’s Ministry of Agriculture, India’s National Food Security Mission (NFSM), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation to test the impact of targeted extension services to agro-dealers on the spread of information and access to Swarna-Sub1. The current agricultural extension model will be modified by incorporating agro-dealers in the information diffusion process, thus enabling incentive based mechanisms to encourage technology adoption by farmers.
Researchers identified 72 blocks (administrative areas of roughly 150 villages) and randomly assigned each block to participate in either agro-dealer-focused (the treatment group) or farmer-focused extension systems (the comparison group).
Ago-dealer group: In each of the 36 blocks, up to 10 agro-dealers will receive a minikit of Swarna Sub-1 seeds for their own use and experimentation. Minikits contain approximately seeds and a small information sheet with images explaining the benefits of the rice variety and information on how to obtain seeds for the next growing season. Dealers can test the seeds as they wish. The objective of this intervention is for dealers to learn about the variety’s quality and then pass that information on to their customers. Dealers will also be informed of locations at which seeds will be available for the next season, in case they choose to start selling Swarna-Sub1. No minikits will be provided directly to farmers.
Farmer group: The official extension agents will not receive minikits for themselves, but will be able to distribute to farmers through two methods that closely resemble the current extension system. Farmers in this group will serve as the comparison group.
To ensure farmers and dealers know how to access seeds, this study will include an information campaign starting a year into the data collection. Researchers will call all dealers across both groups and share information on three seed producers that are carrying seeds. In addition to this general information to dealers, a randomly selected subset of the farmers in the comparison group will receive text messages informing them that Swarna-Sub-1 seeds are available for purchase from agro-dealers.
To measure adoption and availability of Swarna-Sub-1, researchers will survey farmers, agro-dealers, and public seed distributors for two agricultural seasons after the intervention has been implemented.
Results and Policy Lessons
Study ongoing; results forthcoming.