Which farmer(s) should we target? How do extension approaches influence social learning and spread of agricultural innovations?

Lead Research Organisation: Wageningen University
Department Name: Social Sciences


Theme: 'Agriculture'.

In this research we investigate if and how extension services can influence levels of spread of a new agricultural technology through the selection of different lead farmers, i.e. farmers who implement and maintain demonstration plots of a new technology. These farmers learn about the most effective way to implement the new technology and spread this information to family and friends. Different methods to select lead farmers may have profound effects on subsequent learning on and spread of a new technology. This we propose to investigate in a rural African setting, and analyse if one selection method works better than others (in some locations), in terms of subsequent spread and adoption levels.

We randomly select sixty different villages in our region of study, around lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here, our local partner implements a regular extension program. In each selected village they promote the use of nitrogen-fixing legumes. However, for the purpose of this approach, the method by which lead and satellite farmers are selected will differs from one village to the other. We thereby built upon approaches to select lead farmers as are commonly used by extension services and compare two different approaches, each in 30 villages. The methods included selection, or election, based on a participatory group meeting, versus a selection in consultation with village heads. To ensure that our research is well connected to actual practice, a final decision on treatments is taken at the start of the project in close consultation with various local stakeholders.

In order to better understand if, and why some selection methods work better than others, for example, in reaching specific farmer groups such as female farmers, or work better in selected areas only, we collect additional data on village and household characteristics before and after the implementation of the extension program. A baseline survey documents village and household characteristics. In addition, we map social networks by documenting which farmers are linked, and the nature of such links, and we measure social characteristics of the villages experimentally that could explain, or could be explained from, characteristics of the households and social networks surveyed. Such measures include trust or the willingness to invest in a public good.

At two points in time after the initial extension activity -one and two years after the initial training- we document levels of awareness, experimentation and adoption levels of the new technologies in an end-line survey. For each village we determine the total number of adopters and number of fields on which the technology is practiced. We use statistical analyses to determine if one of the treatments, i.e. the methods for selecting lead farmers, has led to a significantly higher level of awareness on, or adoption of the technologies.

Subsequent statistical analyses, combining data from the baseline and end-line surveys, is deployed to better understand how information on technologies diffuses, and why diffusion processes may have been different across the treatments. We thereby analyse if variation in the treatment response can be related to specific village characteristics and we determine if the structure of some social networks, and or decisions by others in social networks, has played an important role in facilitating adoption or information spread.

These analyses provide important information on the processes of technology diffusion and serve to identify best approaches of agricultural technology promotion and diffusion. This in turns helps agricultural development programs to increase their reach amongst rural African smallholders.

Planned Impact

The central aim of this research project is to learn how extension services can more effectively disseminate agricultural technologies amongst smallholder farmers in Africa. Thus, the eventual impact of this project will be for agricultural development organisations in Africa to achieve a greater impact.

The end-users of this research are the various organisations, either public or private, that promote and diffuse new agricultural technologies to rural smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa. This research provides information about best methods, depending on local conditions, to select lead farmers when extending new agricultural technologies. Organisations that promote rural development will benefit through improved knowledge on the effectiveness of their operations, can increase the effectiveness of their operations, and potentially reach more farmers with the same level of resources. Moreover, identifying selection methods that enhance learning on new technologies may also prevent costly mistakes, since farmers more quickly identify technologies that are not suited to local conditions or inferior to alternative methods, thereby preventing organisations from further propagating such technologies. We reiterate that this research benefits academics conducting research in the domain of technology diffusion (see "academic beneficiaries"), assisting researchers to improve and refine current extension appraoches.

The beneficiaries of more effective extension operations are the end-users of new agricultural technologies (i.e. smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa). First, more effective extension approaches imply that more farmers can benefit from limited funds of extension services, either through direct contact with such organisations, or indirectly through an increased chance of a friend or family member being targeted. Next to such benefits across space, benefits to farmers may arise through a reduced time between initial experimentation and adoption (with the full associated benefits). This occurs because methods that facilitate higher levels of social learning could reduce the time needed to identify best local adaptations of a new agricultural technology.

As researchers we are primarily in control of the research process, but through the careful choice of research partners, we increase the chances that our research outcomes translate into true impact (i.e. changes in the way end users of this research - NGOs, international agencies and national extension services- go about their business). This research is implemented in collaboration with researchers from the N2Africa-project, a project disseminating improved legume-technologies to smallholder farmers in eight African countries. We conduct this research project in close collaboration with CIAT-TSBF, the organisation implementing N2Africa in East and Central Africa, but we benefit from the wider network of local extension organisations involved in N2Africa.

We put this network to use through two workshops organised in the course of this project. The first workshop, organised at the start of the research project, is aimed towards identifying research input, and specifically to ensure that the treatments used in our project, i.e. the methods of selecting lead and satellite farmers, are similar and/or comparable to actual practices of local stakeholders. This ensures that we get the research questions right and that we build ownership of the project amongst local stakeholders. A second workshop is organised towards the end of the project whereby we share our own research outputs with involved and other stakeholders. In this way our research output is directly shared with the most important end-users, enabling them to more effectively bring new technologies to smallholder farmers across Africa.
Description We implemented a large scale evaluation of an agricultural technology training and subsidy scheme in Eastern DRC. We find that both training and subsidies increase the adoption and technical efficiency of important food stuffs (such as beans and soy). Further, within communities, we study the social dissemination process of technology and find that social network position is related to the speed and pattern of diffusion.
Further we describe in detail the social networks involved in diffusing and exchanging knowledge and resources. We document the social processes involved and show how the position in a social network matters for the selection and social position of lead farmers (those trained by NGOs)
Exploitation Route The results will be of direct use for the collaborating NGOs and IITA and N2Africa at large.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description Agricultural yields in Sub-Saharan Africa remain low and form a key challenge for development. Training and more intensive use of improved agricultural inputs has been put forward as a strategy for raising farm productivity and improving livelihoods and food security of smallholder farmers and their families. However, the adoption and diffusion of improved inputs has been slow. The project assesses the impact of a new technology adoption program - the N2Africa program (www.n2africa.org) - implemented across villages in rural Eastern DRC. In addition, the project assessed the process of diffusion of knowledge and inputs through communities. The project outcomes add to the understanding of technology adoption and diffusion among smallholder farmers. We show that low technology adoption contribute to the low crop yields that exist in the area and that simple interventions that combine training and subsidized inputs can be an effective tool for development. These insights have been directly relevant for policy makers and in particular for the linked local and international partner projects in the area. We collaborated with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (http://www.iita.org/, N2A.org), a well known international player in developing country agriculture, and six local implementing partner organizations. This collaboration between research teams and practitioners within the evaluation of a locally tailored program created a learning environment that directly influenced policy needs, thereby increasing impact in the region. In addition to the impact evaluation, we also investigate how social networks matter for the diffusion of technologies. We compare various farmer targeting models and show that the reach, speed of diffusion, and characteristics of recipients vary by targeting model. practitioners must therefore choose targeting models compatible with program objectives. In addition, we show that in nominating lead farmers, community members prioritize social connectedness, pro-sociality, and socioeconomic status of candidates. Furthermore, we also see that agricultural technologies are often distributed to neighbors - and therefore taking geographic location of households into account can optimize diffusion. Finally, when using a lead-satellite farmer method to distribute technologies we find large effect attenuation, suggesting projects should seek to select a sufficiently large set of lead farmers for the spread of new technology. Beyond project impacts, the project has strengthened ties between the research partners in the project (WUR, IITA and UCB). We directly linked three PhD students to the project and have secured funding for new research-policy evaluation projects in the area. The project is therefore just as much a result of increased levels of cooperation, as a driver of future projects. In addition, we contributed to local research capacity in data collection and analysis .
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Economic

Description Film DRC collaboration
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
URL http://www.n2africa.tv/video/77632135
Description Film DRC collaboration
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
URL http://www.n2africa.tv/video/78098987#/video/78098993
Description Film DRC projecf
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
URL http://www.n2africa.tv/video/78098987
Description Report
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Description Short Documentary DRC
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact We screened a short documentary on social diffusion of agricultural technology to farm groups in Eastern DRC. The documentary was shown and we engaged in discussions around social learning, diffusion, potential exclusion, etc.
Description 3IE
Amount $75,000 (USD)
Organisation International Initiative for Impact Evaluation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 12/2014
Description Humanitarian interventions in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Amount $450,000 (USD)
Organisation International Initiative for Impact Evaluation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 05/2018
Title DRC Baseline Data 
Description Data base contains ready-to-use geo-referenced detailed characterists of households and communities in Eastern DRC, from 900 households in 100 communities. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The data base is available for use by the N2Africa implementing agencies. 
Title DRC Endline survey 
Description Endline survey implemented in 90 villages in Eastern DRC as part of the impact evaluation and technology project. Data are currently being analysed and will be made public soon. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Nothing yet. But it is expected that data will be useful for our implementing partners, IITA and N2Africa at large and the research community, particularly those working on agriculture 
Description EGAP 
Organisation Experiments in Governance and Politics (EGAP)
Country Global 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution M. Voors joined as a member of EGAP. EGAP members provide academic input in research design, analysis and interpretation.
Collaborator Contribution EGAP members provide academic input in research design, analysis and interpretation.
Impact none at this point
Start Year 2014
Description Academic workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Together with PRIO, Antwerp University and New york University - AD we organised a successful conference on development, resources and conflict during November 2015 in Antwerp. It brought together the 25+ key researchers working in Eastern DRC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Project dissemination workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact During February 2016, we organised our final program dissemination workshop in Bukavu, DRC. All participating organisations attended. We presented the main lessons from the study, its outcomes and future steps. Participants gave active comments and shared their experiences and views in the collaboration, project outcomes and policy impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Research presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Wel present results from our work at the 12th Annual Workshop of the Households in Conflict Network "Violent Conflict, Resilience and Agriculture: From Emergency to Development", in Rome (Italy), October 24-25, 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.hicn.org/wordpress/?page_id=7