Urgent Need for Evidence in Agriculture

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) note that agriculture is the single largest employer in the world. Globally, 40 percent of the population earns its income from agriculture.  The SDGs urge the international community to make the investments needed to double agricultural incomes of small-scale food producers. Astonishingly, little evidence exists to rigorously inform the investments needed to meet this urgent goal. For example, a 2015 systematic review on the effects of training, innovation, and technology on smallholder productivity in Africa identified only 19 studies that met the scientific standard to be included in the review, making it impossible to assess which interventions yield the highest returns. The gap between urgent need for action and the evidence available to inform such action is therefore greater in agriculture than in many other sectors in development.

Agricultural development is crucial, not only for poverty reduction but for many other SDGs as well. Ending hunger and improving nutrition for the 13 percent of people in the developing world, who are hungry, requires restructuring the agricultural value-chain; from farmers who grow food to retailers who sell it to consumers. As a sector contributing both carbon emissions and capture and uniquely susceptible to climate and extreme weather, agricultural innovations can offer solutions to climate change through both mitigation and adaptation.  DIME builds evidence on the innovations that best address all of these challenges through its agriculture portfolio.

Policy-Driven Evaluation Design

Many of DIME’s impact evaluations in agriculture were launched following a workshop on Agriculture Innovations held in June, 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. Ahead of this event, the Africa Region of the World Bank organized a high-level meeting of decision-makers from ministries of finance and agriculture, researchers, and other policymakers to set priorities for research. The June event then took the resulting recommendations to a gathered set of policymakers, project staff, and researchers to embed research questions and designs into the project. This model of involving policymakers from the earliest stages of designing evaluations and building the evaluation directly into projects ensures buy-in from projects and immediate policy relevance of research findings.

In November, 2016, DIME convened a conference on Evidence for Agriculture to share findings from ongoing and completed evaluation in the agriculture portfolio and identify emerging priorities for evaluations in the sector. This event engaged participants from fifteen institutions, including university researchers, policymakers from governments and multinationals, and donor agencies. 

Active Impact Evaluations

The AADAPT portfolio includes more than 20 impact evaluations in 12 countries across Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The evaluations are distributed across five knowledge gaps identified as constraints to the design of effective agriculture policy. These topical areas of focus are highlighted in the table below.


Knowledge Gap

Example IE results

Active IEs in this Area

What are the public investments needed to ensure that farmers have access to markets and receive fair prices for their products?

Brazil: Providing rural organizations with matching grants to invest in machinery and marketing increased farmers’ likelihood of participating in commercial activities, increasing overall sales value by 86%.


Haiti, Brazil, Liberia

Financial Constraints: 
How do financial barriers and institutional constraints prevent farmers from making profitable investments?  What are the simple interventions that can overcome these constraints?
Haiti: A subsidy for fertilizer caused farmers’ rice yields to decrease by 30%. This counterintuitive result occurred because most farmers were already purchasing fertilizer. Because subsidized fertilizer was delivered late, farmers eligible for the subsidy applied fertilizer at the wrong time and experienced lower yields than farmers who paid full price but were able to use fertilizer at the right time. In the future, the government will shift away from fertilizer subsidies and toward promotion of agroforestry.

Rwanda, Benin, Haiti, Uganda,

Rural Infrastructure:
Are large infrastructure investments always profitable?  Beyond construction, how can we ensure sustainability of investments by building effective users groups to manage the infrastructure?
Rwanda roads: Households in remote villages are typically the poorest. These households see the largest benefits from road rehabilitation. When roads are completed, remote households’ income increases more than 20%, enough to catch them up to the initially more-connected villages. 

Rwanda, Mozambique, Kenya, Nepal

Are farmers aware of the productivity gains to be realized from adopting new technologies and methods?  If not, what are the most efficient ways to help them learn about these opportunities?
Bangladesh: Allowing farmers to experiment with new technologies on their own farms increases adoption more than traditional technology demonstrations. The adoption gains are driven both by “learning-by-doing” and learning from others. The important role for learning by doing implies that this mechanism should be incorporated into the design of extension programs.

Bangladesh, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda, Nepal

Natural Resource Management:
How can we encourage rural communities to manage and protect natural resources such as forests, clean water, and soil, while supporting livelihoods that rely on these resources?

Ghana: Small payments to farmers can incentivize farmers to adopt tree crops that are costly in the short run but profitable in the long run and have environmental benefits. Payments of less than $100 can increase participation in tree-crop cultivation from 28% to 88%. Behavioral nudges are being tested to ensure that participating farmers keep their trees alive.


Ghana, Burkina Faso, Brazil

Improving the State of Knowledge and Implementation

DIME produces rigorous evidence on under-studied issues relevant to agricultural policy. This advances knowledge that can be used to design policies to improve productivity in the sector that provides the largest source of income and jobs for the world’s rural poor. DIME has already produced rigorous research on how to adjust extension programs to optimize knowledge diffusion, the relationship between land rights and technology adoption, and the role of gender in learning about technology.

DIME’s model changes the way that agriculture programs operate throughout every stage of the impact evaluation, from establishing comprehensive data-collection platforms to monitoring roads in Rwanda, to changing the way that recipients are selected for irrigation investments in Mozambique, and providing conclusive evidence on the most cost-effective arrangements for extension programs in Malawi. DIME’s research from the agriculture portfolio influences policy directly through intensive interaction with partners from governments and multinationals. Further, it often appears in worker papers and top journals in the field of development economics.