Paper: Social Network Targeting of Agricultural Technology: Adoption, Input Substitution and Yield Effects

Among subsistence farmers in low-income countries, the potential gains from agricultural technology adoption depend crucially on who adopts new technologies, how households internally reallocate resources amongst members, and whether yield gains are realized as a result of this reallocation. In the West African Sahel, few subsistence farmers adopt new seed varieties or fertilizer when planting sorghum, the main food staple and most widely cultivated dryland crop among these farmers. Farmers in the West African Sahel face a myriad of constraints in terms of available inputs and resources, which in our study, prove to be critical complements to production inputs such as fertilizer and improved seed.

To address some of these constraints, this AMA Innovation Lab research team conducted a Randomized Control Trial introducing sorghum farmers in Burkina Faso to a technology for applying small amounts of fertilizer at the time of planting, and provided a randomly assigned subset of farmers with free kits comprised of mineral fertilizer and improved seed. To identify effective methods for diffusing adoption of this technique, the team randomized villages to either two forms of social network targeting of influential villagers, or to a more common non-targeted approach where farmers received free kits by random assignment.

Results show that the targeted approach is much more effective in encouraging broader adoption in the longterm. In terms of identifying potential gains to adoption, we find that smaller landholders who were already using mineral fertilizer saw considerable yield responses from our encouragement design.