Agglomeration payments for catchment conservation and improved livelihoods in Malawi

Lead Research Organisation: Int Food Policy Research Inst
Department Name: Env and Production Technology Division

Abstract

A popular retail technique, the 'Groupon', is a system in which returns to an individual consumer are enhanced if he or she can convince others to participate as well. Analogs to the Groupon are possible in land management, where bonus payments based on the participation of neighbors can be employed to achieve contiguity of land use, prevention of land degradation, enhancement of biodiversity and other ecological services. Such payments - termed 'agglomeration payments' in the ecological economics literature - may also offset some program costs by reducing moral hazard and encouraging sustained adoption. This study applies agglomeration payments as part of an encouragement design for land conservation practices in Malawi's Shire Valley basin. In partnership with the Malawi Department of Land Resources and Conservation (DLRC) and the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM), our research will evaluate the impacts of agglomeration payments on the adoption of agricultural conservation technologies being promoted currently by the Government of Malawi, and the positive externalities for the Shire Valley basin that may accrue from the resulting spatial contiguity of adopting farms.
The adoption of sustainable agricultural practices in this area is still modest, making it challenging to evaluate impacts. Our two-pronged research strategy includes first a pilot study with a 4-treatment encouragement design to evaluate strategies for improving adoption of conservation agricultural (CA) technologies under DLRC-led programs in the Shire Valley. The treatments will compare the roles of extension services, conventional payments, and agglomeration payments in encouraging adoption of sustainable agricultural practices such as CA.
Second, we propose to develop an agent-based model (ABM) of the Shire Valley basin system to evaluate consequences of improved adoption of sustainable agricultural practices for the enhanced provision of ecosystem services such as improved water quality and runoff regulation, or increased natural predator and pollination services. Agent-based models treat actors in the system (such as farmers) as individual agents whose decisions and interactions lead to emergent landscape-level outcomes such as land cover, water quality or ecosystem-level impacts. Data on social interactions and decision making from our pilot study will inform this regional-scale ABM which, coupled to soil-water assessment models already developed for Sub-Saharan Africa and to literature models for provision of predator and pollination services, will allow assessment of the landscape-scale consequences of the different incentives evaluated in the pilot study.
A challenge in evaluating impacts from projects focused on sustainable agricultural practices is that while some impacts (such as reduced costs and labor) accrue rapidly, others (such as shifts in yields or water quality) may take years of consistent CA implementation to emerge. The design proposed here overcomes this limitation by combining field data collection with modeling, aiming to address three key questions:

Q1) How do agglomeration payments shift interactions among farmers, as well as rates/patterns of adoption of practices such as CA?
Q2) Can agglomeration payments lead to enhanced landscape-scale ecosystem service provision?
Q3) Do agglomeration payments facilitate cost-effective ecosystem service provision, relative to conventional incentives?

Planned Impact

A central premise of this work is that careful engagement of policy stakeholders will lead to uptake of the research products, and an influence on the structure of agricultural programs in Malawi. Though our direct role ends at uptake, it is implied that such influence will lead to improved livelihoods in rural communities in Malawi through the provision of well-designed incentives that encourage ecosystem service-enhancing land-use practices. The ASWAp program through within which we are operating has itself 19000 intended beneficiaries - we hope that the results of our pilot research within ASWAp may have reach at this scale in future programs. Beyond this key set of direct stakeholder impacts, we anticipate a range of other broader impacts from the project.
First, while the project is not aimed at providing studentships, our team at Lilongwe University will recruit current graduate students to the enumerator team, possibly providing opportunities for publication and thesis development, but more directly building skills in field methods, randomized control trials, and impact evaluation among the next generation of Malawian agricultural research professionals.
Second, this project will be an important case study showing a route to which landscape-wide impacts can arise from individual choices and therefore an important way into protecting "the commons". Thus, there is another class of indirect user - the global community of people with an interest in encouraging sustainability (sensu stricto). Through publication in the academic and grey literature, we expect our work to build upon the global understanding of harmonizing livelihood provision with ecosystem function.
 
Description Our baseline survey included an experiment (a discrete choice experiment) to evaluate farmers' willingness to adopt conservation agricultural practices in response to different incentives. We used the results of this experiment to i) set appropriate incentive levels for our pilot and ii) build a short research paper explaining what appear to be key factors that quantifiably shape farmers' perceptions of conservation agriculture and their willingness to adopt it as a practice.

Key findings from our first year of intervention are that i) agglomeration payments do influence the willingness to mulch crop residues and ii) the adoption of CA appears to be at least a 2-part decision of adopting mulching+zero tillage, and separately adopting intercropping.

We observed a doubling of program participation (from 1450 to 2870) from year 1 to year 2; analysis has not yet begun on compliance among registrants and patterns in that compliance.

Modeling findings identify clear cost-effectiveness gains at scale for agglomeration payments.

On simple basis of change in land area under CA in treatment vs control villages, and direct costs in the form of vouchers, marginal cost of reducing sediment via land practices appears to be on order of ~$7 / ton, given current conditions and levels of adoption
Exploitation Route These have been published/are in review, and we are beginning to conduct workshops, conference presentations, etc. to promote them.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description We have regularly engaged both the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi, as well as the World Bank and their Shire River Basin Management Program, along the length of this project. As of the end of project, we have been invited to contribute to a number of different activities shaping the next phase of investments in the Shire River Basin. We have not yet commuted these invitations into a next round of funding, or into clear, formal influence; we have additional follow-up trips to Malawi over the coming year to help move this forward.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description BASIS AMA CRSP
Amount $800,000 (USD)
Organisation United States Agency for International Development 
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 09/2014 
End 09/2017
 
Title Ethnographic decision tree modeling dataset 
Description Interview transcripts of 96 participants, identification of 26 criteria involved in the decision to adopt conservation agriculture, and assessment of these 26 criteria within our Endline study (1800 respondentS) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact First applied in a machine-learning analysis of farmer CA decision-making, published in Water, 2018 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/GTSEWP
 
Title Farm Adoption Model 
Description An agent-based model of agricultural adoption, employing an expected utility decision model for risk-averse, boundedly rational, future-discounting farmers. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Nothing yet. \ We were in contact for potential integration and crossover modeling with the ESPA funded ASSETS project model, developed for the same region, but the linkage has not materialized up to now. 
 
Title Voucher redemption dataset 
Description Complete set of voucher values, registration of redemption, and log of items purchased for intervention Years 1 (1450 participants) and 2 (2800 participants) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Outputs in preparation as of March 2017 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/GTSEWP
 
Title Year 0 Baseline study 
Description Clustered random sample of households within villages (60 villages with 30 hh per). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset so far has been used to generate one journal article in Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment (2016), and contributed data toward one masters' thesis 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/GTSEWP
 
Title Year 1 Registration and monitoring follow-up dataset 
Description Dataset of registrants in our intervention across 48 treatment villages, and follow-up visits to check on compliance 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset has currently led to one journal article in Land Use Policy, 2018, on the nature of early adoption under our program 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/GTSEWP
 
Title Year 2 Endline dataset 
Description Agricultural household survey of 1800 respondents, panel study to complement baseline dataset 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Applied to a publication in Water, 2018, and an article for the Journal of Global Sustainability (resubmitted as of March 2018). 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/GTSEWP
 
Title Year 2 Intervention Registration and Monitoring Dataset 
Description Detailed plot-level data collection, plot boundaries, and compliance measure for 2800 households in Year 2 of our intervention 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Outputs in preparation as of March 2018 
URL https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/GTSEWP
 
Description Participation at the 16th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment (NCSE) on the Food-Energy-Water Nexus in Washington DC during January 19-21 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The session at the NCSE conference was titled "Ecosystem Services for Nexus Solutions". The session abstract is pasted below.
The session was linked to a special issue paper in JESS (Opportunities for improved promotion of ecosystem services in agriculture under the Water-Energy-Food Nexus) co-authored by Andrew Bell, Nate Matthews and Wei Zhang who co-organized the session. The paper is listed under EPSA outputs.

The water-energy-food nexus is one important, but as of yet insufficiently explored entry point to improve ecosystem services for people and the environment. The session seeks to explore how the nexus approach can help to secure the sustainable provision and equitable distribution of ecosystem services in various agricultural landscapes across the globe. It aims to examine how increased resource use efficiency through solutions in the water, energy and food sectors ensure that ecosystem services will continue to generate services for future generations and particularly for the poor.

Moderator: Nathanial Matthews, CGIAR Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems and International Water Management Institute

Speakers:
?Andrew Bell, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, New York University*
?Anthony Janetos, Director, Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and Professor, Earth and Environment, Boston University
?Tracy Rouleau, Deputy Chief Economist, Office of Program Planning and Integration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
?Wei Zhang, Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://foodenergywaternexus.org/s-d3-ecosystem-services-for-nexus-solutions/
 
Description Participation in ESP Africa Annual Meeting 2016 (Nairobi, Kenya) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two talks given in two separate panels as part of ESP conference. ~30 attendees in each session.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Project planning workshop Summer 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 15 project members and stakeholders met to discuss current findings and improve planning for 2015-2016 project year.

The group identified 'data collection and management' as a key topic for planned capacity building workshops in 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description SSCCM End-of-project Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We convened regional experts in Conservation Agriculture (from both social sciences and natural sciences fields), as well as local NGOs (e.g., Total Land Care) and other Shire Basin stakeholders (ESCOM, USAID, World Bank, Ministry of Agriculture) for a 2-day workshop synthesizing our project work with other efforts in the region and identifying next steps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://massp.ifpri.info/2018/01/31/why-is-adoption-of-conservation-agriculture-still-a-hard-sell-in-...
 
Description Training workshop on social data collection in rural areas 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We conducted two three-day workshops in Lilongwe and Blantyre on improved rural data collection. The workshops included curricula on i) impact evaluation, ii) data analysis in Excel, iii) data collection using Android ODK, iv) spatial analysis using QGIS, and v) choice modeling using R. We had ~100 participants across both workshops, with participants from universities, NGOs, government, and the private sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016