Agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan countries is notoriously low (Gollin et al., 2014), hampering growth and challenging food security. This is despite technologies available to farmers that could profitably increase yields (Duflo et al., 2011). While many studies have focused on the role of land, credit, and insurance market failures in explaining low technology uptake, researchers hypothesize that lack of skilled labor in rural areas prevents farmers from adopting profitable technologies, when the latter are labor intensive.
In scoping work in rural Burundi in partnership with the NGO “One Acre Fund” (OAF), the research team documents that farmers are aware of the benefits of planting practices (which could increase crop yields by to 30-40%), but report the lack of skilled labor as a major barrier to adoption because the practices are more labor intensive than the traditional planting techniques. They also document that those laborers who know the practices receive a wage premium, suggesting that there is a shortage of skilled labor. Moreover, contracting frictions might lead skilled farmers – who are net buyers of labor– to underinvest in training unskilled farmers – who are net sellers of labor.
Researchers test the hypotheses that: 1) skilled labor shortages hamper adoption of profitable technologies when the latter are labor intensive, 2) contracting frictions contribute to inefficiently low levels of training in equilibrium. Before the season begins, One Acre Fund clients in certain villages (“trainers”) are asked to choose an unskilled laborer whom they would be willing to hire (“trainee”). On a designated day, trainers and trainees are invited to attend a session where each trainer-trainee pair receives a small plot of land for the training. In intervention villages, trainers are incentivized to demonstrate and teach advanced planting practices to trainees. In comparison villages, client farmers are invited to select a laborer, and both are invited to a placebo event, where general information about planting practices will be provided, and client farmers are recommended to provide training to laborers.
To test that the effects are driven by contracting frictions, the research team perform additional tests: 1) Test for higher wages for newly trained laborers and 2) Demand for training. Laborers are presented with a BDM exercise where they can choose an amount of money or training. If contracting frictions are the reason for under-training in equilibrium, we should observe a positive willingness-to-pay for training. Finally, they test whether farmers are willing to provide training for a strictly lower incentive if One Acre Fund guarantees that a laborer (the same, or one with an equal level of skills) is going to be available at planting time.
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