Agriculture is the primary source of income for most of the world’s poorest people. Yet farmers in developing countries face many challenges, including unpredictable weather, poor access to markets, and the high cost of technology. Other factors, like lack of credit or labor, can discourage households from investing in their farms, compromising future growth. While modern farming techniques could greatly improve yields—especially in Sub-Saharan Africa—the use of fertilizers, new varieties, and other technologies remains low.
CEGA researchers are addressing testing a range of products and strategies to help smallholders increase yields and incomes. To overcome weather risk, we have evaluated rainfall-indexed insurance products and the distribution of seeds resistant to drought and flooding. We are testing novel information and communication technologies (ICTs) to overcome lack of information about the benefits of new agricultural products. The Center's affilaites also study the impacts of climate change on agriculture, using emerging insights to design strategies for adaptation.
Central to CEGA’s work in agriculture is the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI), a $12 million research program managed in partnership with J-PAL. ATAI supports the rigorous testing of strategies to improve adoption and profitable use of technologies by small-scale farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is funded by the Gates Foundation, the U.K. Department for International Development, and an anonymous donor.
Stress-Tolerant Rice in India
In partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), CEGA researchers are studying the benefits of drought- and flood-tolerant rice varieties in high-risk regions of India. They find that flood-resistant seeds create incentives for farmers to use fertilizer, because these varieties reduce a households exposure to weather risk. The benefits are greatest for the most marginalized populations, who live in low-lying flood-prone lands. Bolstered by CEGA research, IRRI has decided to scale up its distribution of new seeds to millions of farmers throughout South Asia.
Loans Tied to the Harvest Cycle
In sub-Saharan Africa, the need for income often forces farmers to sell their crops immediately after harvest, when supply is high and local prices are low. In Kenya, CEGA affiliates have tested a harvest-time loan product that encourages small-scale farmers to store their maize for short periods. This allows households to delay sales until later in the season, when prices are higher. The evidence from this study is being used by One Acre Fund to develop a scaled-up version of the loan product.