Initiative targets poor farmers in Africa

By understanding why Africa has not yet adopted technologies and practices that can dramatically boost productivity, researchers hope to improve farmers’ lives.

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Economists at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) and the University of California, Berkeley, today
announced a collaboration that could help chart a pathway out of
poverty for millions of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
than two-thirds of people in Sub-Saharan Africa rely on agriculture for
employment and many of them live on small farms and earn less than $1
per day. While the agricultural sector has developed considerably over
the past several decades in countries such as Mexico, India, and China
— largely thanks to technologies and practices developed during the
1960s and 1970s — most farmers in rural Sub-Saharan Africa have neither
taken up technologies nor seen much improvement in their living
standards. With an aim to understand why this hasn’t happened and with
the ultimate goal of increasing the livelihood of poor farmers, this
research project will provide critical information about how to
overcome the barriers of adoption so that farmers can benefit from
technologies and practices that could dramatically improve their lives.

Funded by a $4.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation to MIT, and $1.6 million from an anonymous donor, a
team of researchers from MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
(J-PAL) and the Center of Evaluation for Global Action (CEGA) at UC
Berkeley have launched the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative.
The effort will apply behavioral economics, the study of why people
make economic choices, to real-world problems faced by farmers and
agricultural development organizations.

“The Gates Foundation
has invested considerable resources in the development of new
agricultural technologies,” said Rachel Glennerster, executive director
of J-PAL. “But to maximize the gains from this investment, we need to
know why many existing technologies —that could dramatically improve
people’s lives — are not getting adopted, and how best to promote
adoption of new technologies.”

Researchers in this six-year
initiative will study the effectiveness of different approaches
including new financing schemes, distribution mechanisms, information
sharing, and marketing strategies.

“Lack of access to assets and
to public services — including land, timely and reliable information,
and financial services — are major barriers to the adoption of new
technologies by the poor,” said Alain de Janvry, professor of
agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley. “How can we
overcome these constraints cost-effectively to secure adoption?”

Janvry co-authored the World Bank’s 2008 report on agriculture and
development, which concluded that the agricultural sector in developing
nations has been underfunded for the past two decades and called for a
renewed focus on agricultural development in order to reduce global
poverty and hunger.

The researchers will work with
international partners to select their collaborative research projects.
Principal investigators for the initiative include Abhijit Banerjee and
Rachel Glennerster of MIT; Nava Ashraf of Harvard Business School; UC
Berkeley’s De Janvry; Paul Gertler, a professor of economics at the
Haas School of Business and of health services finance;  and Elisabeth
Sadoulet, a professor of agricultural and resource economics.

grant is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural
Development initiative, which is working with a wide range of partners
in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to provide millions of small
farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost
their yields, increase their incomes, and build better lives for
themselves and their families. The foundation is working to strengthen
the entire agricultural value chain — from seeds and soil to farm
management and market access — so that progress against hunger and
poverty is sustainable over the long term.

Topics: In the world, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Poverty, Public service

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