Smallholder farmers often fail to take advantage of hybrid seeds that are bred to generate higher yields, which could be sold for higher incomes and support greater food security. This project used Western Seed Company’s expansion into new mid-altitude areas in Western and Central Kenya to evaluate the impact of its hybrid maize program on farmers’ production practices and agricultural output. Researchers found that the option to purchase the hybrid maize seed increased farmers’ productivity, but that yield gains were particularly high among better-resourced farmers who were more likely to have used hybrids in the past. Researchers also confirmed that networks affect farmers’ familiarity with the new technology, their willingness to pay for the product, and their likelihood of adopting it. However, this peer learning is less effective at spreading the use of the improved seed in villages where soil tests show greater soil nutrient variation (i.e. “heterogeneity”) among peers. These findings shed light on important aspects of farmer learning and decision-making and offer an important explanation for why the promotion of general recommendations for fertilizer or seed usage often have disappointing adoption rates.
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