Government-run agricultural extension services are a key component in the fight against poverty in Paraguay. These services (and the agents that provide them) help poor farmers increase crop yields, improving food security and agricultural profit. However, ensuring that these services reach farmers can be difficult. In Paraguay, supervisors must monitor multiple agricultural extension agents (AEAs), each of whom travels hundreds of kilometers to provide varying types and amounts of assistance to individual farmers. Many policymakers have begun adopting technologies, such as cell phones, as a mechanism to more efficiently and effectively monitor public service delivery. Researchers are partnering with the Paraguayan government to test the impact of GPS-enabled cell phones on the job performance of AEAs.
Agriculture accounted for around 20 percent of Paraguay’s 2013 GDP, and formally employed approximately 25 percent of the country’s labor force in 2008.  The sector may play a larger role than these statistics suggest, as informal employment and subsistence farming are not included in official estimates. The Paraguayan government currently employs over 800 AEAs, organized into local technical assistance agencies (Agencia Local de Asistencia Técnica) to support 80,000 farming households across the country.
Researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to test the impact of GPS-enabled cell phones on the job performance of AEAs in rural Paraguay. In partnership with the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Agriculture, researchers randomly allocated cell phones to some members of technical assistance agencies. Typically, each agency is comprised of three AEAs and one supervisor, who are each responsible for roughly 100 farm households. Researchers focused the study on 180 local technical assistance agencies, randomly assigning 50 percent of the agencies to receive phones and 50 percent to serve as the comparison group. To understand how a program such as this could be most effectively implemented, researchers also wanted to learn whether supervisors have superior information about which agents should be issued phones first to maximize impact on performance. For agencies with two more or more AEAs that were selected to receive phones, researchers asked supervisors to indicate which half of agents should receive phones first.
To measure agent performance, researchers created a farmer registration system to compare the quantity and type of farmers registered by different groups of AEAs. To incentivize farmers to register themselves, the Ministry of Agriculture announced a cash prize raffle for all those in the system. Additionally, researchers conducted surveys on agents and farmers to better understand agents’ personalities and motivations, as well as their ultimate effort and impact on farmers.
Results and Policy Implications
 Central Intelligence Agency. “Paraguay.” World Factbook.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pa.html (accessed December 29, 2014).
Photo: counterculturecoffee via flickr creative commons. Pedro Patana of Cenaproc, Bolivia.