Despite regularly making decisions that affect their crop yields, farmers in the developing world may lack information about how to appropriately use farming inputs or techniques. For instance, a farmer must decide on the optimal timing of planting, the depth and spacing of seeds, the amount of fertilizer to use, and the timing of fertilizer use, among other things. Farmers may be reluctant to engage in potentially risky experimentation on their own plots, which prevents them from gathering new information about efficient agricultural practices. And even when farmers have information available to them about ways to increase their yields, they may not adopt optimal agricultural practices. One explanation for this is that farmers fail to notice certain details about the cultivation process simply because they may not believe that information to be useful. This suggests that it could be possible for farmers to learn about optimal farming techniques if they are presented with information that helps them notice new or previously neglected dimensions of the production process.
Context of the Evaluation:
Seaweed farming has been prominent in Nusa Penida district in Bali, Indonesia since it was introduced during the 1980s. Most seaweed is cultivated by taking raw seaweed and cutting it into pods, which are then planted at intervals along the ocean floor. The size of the pods and distance between them is determined by the farmer. Due to its relatively short crop cycle of 35 to 40 days, seaweed cultivation provides farmers with ample opportunity to learn through experimentation and implement new techniques. However, 86 percent of seaweed farmers sampled were unable to provide information about the pod size they used on their plots or what they believed to be the optimal pod size for seaweed cultivation.
Details of the Intervention:
From a group of 232 seaweed farmers, researchers randomly selected 117 to participate in an experimental trial to determine the optimal pod size for seaweed cultivation on their plots. Farmers in the treatment group assisted an agricultural extension worker to vary the seaweed production methods on one of their plots and received the trial results afterwards. The remaining 115 farmers served as the comparison group and received no new services.
The farmers in the treatment group were randomly assigned to one of two sub-groups that varied the size and weight of seaweed pods.
Pod Size Treatment: Researchers collected data on the variation in pod size within each farmer’s plot to understand whether farmers could achieve a higher yield by systematically planting pods of a specific size.
Pod Weight Treatment: Researchers collected data on how variation in the weight and distance between pods affected the yield. In both cases, farmers observed as enumerators planted the seaweed pods.
All farmers in the treatment group received compensation for their participation in the form of farming inputs, a guaranteed income from the plot they cultivated as part of the trial, and a small gift worth US $1.
Researchers conducted a follow-up survey from April to May 2008 to test whether farmers changed any of their methods after participating in the trial. After the first follow-up survey, farmers were given summarized trial results, which included information on the returns from different farming methods and highlighted which pod size and pod weight produced the highest yields, respectively. Enumerators talked through the results with the farmers, in addition to providing them with a written summary. Two months after the results were distributed, researchers conducted a second follow-up survey to determine whether farmers had changed their methods as a result of having received the trial results.
Results and Policy Lessons:
Researchers found that farmers neglect certain dimensions of seaweed cultivation and fail to use the optimal level of inputs along those neglected dimensions. For instance, while most farmers are attentive to the optimal distance between seaweed pods, very few farmers had consciously experimented with pod size prior to the trial.
Participation in the trial alone did not induce a significant change in farming techniques, which suggests that learning through observation and experience does not always guarantee effective use of technology. However, farmers in the treatment group report making large and significant changes in their production techniques after receiving summarized trial results and specific recommendations about which pod size or weight improved yields. The number of farmers who reported changing their techniques increased by 16 percentage points between the first and the second follow-up surveys. Similarly, pod size increased by approximately 7 grams in the pod-size treatment sub-group relative to the comparison group. This was consistent with the average change in pod size recommended by enumerators.
Thus, while farmers did not appear to consider pod size to be an important part of the production process prior to the trials, providing summary information on the optimal pod size appeared to change their use of this production input. This suggests that farmers who fail to notice may not learn even when they are actively experimenting and, as a result, may not notice the very features of a technology that make it profitable. Training programs for farmers may be useful, not only for new technologies, but also for existing technologies that individuals may have had prior experience with.
Basic public goods such as dependable roads and clean water infrastructure are routinely underprovided in much of the developing world. While the provision of these services is often centrally administered, many now advocate for decentralization and community involvement as a more effective approach. Local communities can have better information on what goods and services are needed, and may thus be better positioned to recognize and quickly respond to inefficiency or corruption in implementation. Recent years have witnessed a trend toward decentralization in developing countries; this increase in local participation in government decision-making has been facilitated by a wide variety of political reforms, but the implications of these political mechanisms are yet to be well understood.
Context of the Evaluation:
Over 13 percent of the population of Indonesia lives below the poverty line, and improving the infrastructure in marginalized areas is a priority for the Indonesian government.1 An Indonesian government program supported by a loan from the World Bank, the Kecamatan Development Program (KDP), funds projects in approximately 15,000 villages each year. Each village receives an average of Rp. 80 million (US$8,800) for infrastructure projects. Participating subdistricts, typically containing 10-20 villages, receive an annual block grant for three years. Each village makes two proposals – one on behalf of the whole village and one proposed by woman’s groups – for small-scale infrastructure projects.
Typically, when it comes time for a village to decide upon its two KDP proposals, representatives from various hamlets come together to discuss the merits of, and to decide on, the village’s two project proposals. A typical meeting would have between 9 and 15 people representing the various hamlets, as well as formal and informal village leaders, with on average about 48 people attending in total out of an average village population of 2,200. While the program has effectively improved local infrastructure in many of these villages, it is unclear whether current procedure makes projects easily dominated by elites and under-provides for those community members who need improved services the most.
Details of the Intervention:
To investigate these issues, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation in 49 villages, all of which were preparing to apply for infrastructure projects. Each village was randomized into one of two different political processes through which they determined which project to propose: 32 villages would follow the traditional representative meeting-based process described above, and the remaining 17 would choose their KDP project proposals via a direct election-based plebiscite. At these plebiscites, villagers could directly vote on a list of potential projects. For the general project, all adults were eligible to vote, and for the women-specific proposal, only women could vote. Data was collected on the project preferences of all villagers, including the elite, as well as the location and type of projects selected.
Results and Policy Lessons:
Impact on Project Type: The direct election process had little effect on the types of projects selected amongst the general project proposals, but had substantial positive effects on measures of citizen satisfaction with the political process. However, the elections did not change the probability that the general project would be located in a poor area. Direct elections on women’s projects, on the other hand, resulted in both increased satisfaction with the political process and increased probability that projects were located in poorer areas of the villages.
Impact on Satisfaction Measures: Direct elections resulted in substantial changes in the community’s satisfaction with the political process. Overall, the plebiscites resulted in an increase of 21 percentage points of people who said that the project chosen was either very much or somewhat in accordance with their wishes, an increase of 18 percentage points of people who said they would benefit either very much or somewhat from the project, an increase of 10 percentage points of people who said they would use the project personally, and an increase in overall satisfaction with KDP by 13 percentage points. The elections also raised the probability that individuals stated they would contribute something (such as labor or money) to the project by 17 percentage points. Additionally, villagers in treatment locations were 19 percentage points more likely to correctly identify the type and location of the general village project, and 25 percentage points more likely to know these things about the woman’s project.
 CIA World Factbook, “Indonesia,” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/id.html (accessed August 31, 2009).
Corruption plagues many developing countries where the world’s poorest live, and combating it continues to be an arduous task. Corruption acts like a tax, adding to the cost of providing public services and conducting business; it also creates potentially severe efficiency consequences as well. Many suggest the right combination of monitoring and punishments can control corruption, but often the very individuals tasked with monitoring and enforcing punishments may themselves be corruptible. Another approach to reducing corruption is community-level monitoring. Local community members have the most to gain from a successful anti-corruption program, and are thus believed to have better incentives to monitor than bureaucrats. However, there is little empirical evidence on the success of such strategies.
Context of the Evaluation:
An Indonesian government program supported by a loan from the World Bank, the Kecamatan Development Project (KDP), funds projects in approximately 15,000 villages each year. Each village receives an average of Rp. 80 million, (US$8,800), which they often use to surface existing dirt roads. KDP-funded projects are large relative to ordinary local government activities; in 2001, the average annual village budget was only Rp. 71 million (US$7,800), so receiving a KDP project more than doubles average local government expenditures. This large amount of money creates incentives for price inflation, collusion with suppliers, kickback for village leaders, and manipulation of wage payments.
Two checks on corruption are built into KDP. First, funds are paid to village implementation teams in three installments. To receive the second and third payments, the teams must make accountability reports at an open meeting where they account for how they spent the money; only after that meeting has approved the accountability report is the next installment released. Second, each project has approximately a 4 percent chance of being audited by the government.
Details of the Intervention:
To examine the role of community monitoring and government audits on corruption, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation in 608 Indonesian villages in East Java and Central Java, Indonesia’s most populous provinces. Each village in the study was about to start building a village road with KDP funding. Some villages were randomly selected to be told, after funds had been awarded but before construction began, that their project would subsequently be audited by the central government, increasing the likelihood of an audit from 4 percent to 100 percent. These audits carry the possibility of criminal action if corruption is detected, and the results of the audits are read publicly to an open village meeting, potentially resulting in social sanctions.
To investigate the impact of increasing community participation in the monitoring process, two interventions were established to enhance participation at accountability meetings. Some villages were selected to have invitations to these meetings distributed throughout the community, encouraging direct participation in the monitoring process and reducing elite dominance of the process. In the second experiment, an anonymous comment form was distributed along with the invitations, providing villagers an opportunity to relay information about the project to be shared at the meetings, without fear of retaliation. (See chart below)
Experimental Treatments by Group:
Audit & Participation I
Audit & Participation
Corruption was measured by comparing the researcher’s estimate of what the project actually costs, determined by the quantity of materials used and estimate of material prices and wages paid on the project, to what the village reported it spent on the project on an item by item basis.
Results and Policy Lessons:
The evidence suggests that increasing the probability of external audits substantially reduced missing funds in the project. Increasing the probability that a village was audited by the central government from 4 percent to 100 percent reduced missing expenditures by about eight percentage points, from 27.7 percentage points to 19.2 percentage points. One reason that the decrease was not larger is that a 100 percent audit probability does not imply that village officials face a 100 percent probability of detecting corruption and imposing a punishment. In fact, although auditors found violations of some type or another in 90 percent of the villages they visited, the vast majority of these violations were procedural in nature, and there were very few, if any, cases in which the auditors had enough concrete evidence to actually prosecute offenses.
The invitations increased the number of people participating in the accountability meetings by an average of 14.8 people, or about 40 percent; slightly more than by including a comment form, since many villagers used the form as a substitute for attendance. Villages that received the invitations intervention were more likely to openly discuss corruption problems at the accountability meetings, and villages receiving both invitations and comment forms were more likely to take serious action at the meeting to resolve corruption-related problems. However, the magnitude of these changes in behavior at the meetings was small, and these treatments did not measurably reduce overall missing expenditures, yet they did have an effect on certain types of expenditures in some cases. For instance, the invitations substantially reduced missing labor expenditures, and the comment forms did reduce missing expenditures in some cases, but only when they were distributed via schools, bypassing local officials. This study provides evidence that community participation, widely viewed as a panacea for development projects, impacts levels of corruption only under a limited set of circumstances, and pains must be taken to prevent elite capture for it to be an effective means of reducing corruption.