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Large and regular seasonal price fluctuations in local grain markets appear to offer African farmers substantial inter-temporal arbitrage opportunities, but these opportunities remain largely unexploited: small-scale farmers are commonly observed to “sell low and buy high” rather than the reverse. In a field experiment in Kenya, we show that credit market imperfections limit farmers’ abilities to move grain inter-temporally. Providing timely access to credit allows farmers to purchase at lower prices and sell at higher prices, increasing farm profits and generating a return on investment of 28%. To understand general equilibrium effects of these changes in behavior, we vary the density of loan offers across locations. We document significant effects of the credit intervention on seasonal price fluctuations in local grain markets, and show that these GE effects greatly affect our individual level profitability estimates. We also find suggestive evidence that these GE effects generate benefits for program non-recipients, benefits which are unlikely to be recouped by a financial institution and suggest a potential role for public intervention. In contrast to existing experimental work, our results thus indicate a setting in which microcredit can improve firm profitability, and suggest that GE effects can substantially shape estimates of microcredit’s effectiveness. Failure to consider these GE effects could lead to substantial misestimates of the social welfare benefits of microcredit interventions.

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Working Paper
Date:
October 12, 2017
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In Sierra Leone, we have continued our global tradition of rigorous, applicable research by building foundational research capacity and conducting evaluations in areas of pressing national concern. Examples of our work described in this brief offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the poor in Sierra Leone.

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Brief
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June 08, 2017
English

In Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mali, we have continued our global tradition of rigorous, applicable research by building foundational research capacity and conducting evaluations in areas of pressing national concern. Examples of our work below offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the Francophone West African poor.

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Brief
Date:
April 24, 2017
English

This paper presents an experimental approach to measure competition in agricultural markets, based on the random allocation of subsidies to competing traders. We compare prices of subsidized and unsubsidized crop traders to recover the key market structure parameter in a standard model of imperfect competition. By combining the experimental results with quasi-experimental estimates of the pass-through rate, we also estimate market size, or the effective number of traders competing for farmers’ supply. In the context of the Sierra Leone cocoa industry, our results point to a competitive agricultural trading sector and suggest that the market size is substantially larger than the village. The methodology developed in this paper uses purely individual-level treatment to shed light on market structure. This approach may be useful for the many cases in which market-level randomization is not feasible.

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Working Paper
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April 01, 2017
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Three hundred million of the world’s rural poor suffer from seasonal income insecurity, which often occurs between planting and harvest when the demand for agricultural labor falls and the price of food rises. Those who undergo a lean season typically miss meals for a two- to three-month period. This is especially problematic for pregnant women and young children since poor nutrition for even a short time can limit long-term cognitive and physical development. Seasonal hunger and deprivation is perhaps the biggest challenge to the reduction of global poverty that has remained largely under the radar.

Members of some families in poor rural areas migrate to urban areas for work to cope with seasonal deprivation. In Bangladesh, however, researchers observed that many vulnerable households, who could potentially reap large benefits from temporary migration, didn’t send anyone away to work, thereby risking hunger. Why weren’t more people migrating? Would these households improve food security if they were to send a migrant to these areas during the lean season? More broadly, why were so many people sticking around in relatively unproductive rural areas, in the face of persistent gaps in wages and productivity between urban and rural areas? Was this akin to the proverbial $100 bills being left on the sidewalk?

A research team from Yale University, the London School of Economics, the University of Sydney, and Innovations for Poverty Action investigated these questions in Northern Bangladesh during 2008-2011, testing whether providing information or small financial incentives, worth about the cost of a bus ticket, increased migration and in turn, improved household welfare. They found that households offered either a grant or loan to migrate were substantially more likely to send someone to work outside the village during the lean season, and those families increased caloric intake relative to those not offered the incentives. Many of those households chose to re-migrate on their own a year later. A replication and expansion of the study during 2014-2016 not only confirmed these findings, it also showed that larger scale emigration increases wages and work hours in the village of origin, indirectly benefiting other residents who stay back.

Read about Evidence Action's scale-up of the program here. 

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Brief
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December 29, 2016
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IPA Zambia is pleased to share with you its final bulletin of the year: "2016 in Review." This bulletin highlights ten of IPA Zambia's research projects, including updates from projects included in the previous bulletin as well as new contributions. We hope you enjoy this look at the high-quality evidence we've generated this past year, and we look forward to continuing this work with you in the year ahead.

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Brief
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December 13, 2016

The gains from insurance arise from the transfer of income across states. Yet, by requiring that the premium be paid upfront, standard insurance products also transfer income across time. We show that this intertemporal transfer can help explain low insurance demand, especially among the poor, and in a randomized control trial in Kenya we test a crop insurance product which removes it. The product is interlinked with a contract farming scheme: as with other inputs, the buyer of the crop offers the insurance and deducts the premium from farmer revenues at harvest time. The take-up rate is 72%, compared to 5% for the standard upfront contract, and take-up is highest among poorer farmers. Additional experiments and outcomes indicate that liquidity constraints, present bias and counterparty risk are important constraints on the demand for standard insurance. Finally, evidence from a natural experiment in the United States, exploiting a change in the timing of the premium payment for Federal Crop Insurance, shows that the transfer across time also affects insurance adoption in developed countries.

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Working Paper
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December 01, 2016
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We examine the potential of asset-collateralized loans in low-income country credit markets. When a Kenyan dairy cooperative exogenously replaced high down payments and joint liability requirements with loans collateralized by the asset itself—a large water tank—loan take-up increased from 2.4%to 41.9%. In contrast, substituting joint liability requirements for deposit requirements had no impact on loan take up. There were no repossessions among farmers allowed to collateralize 75% of their loans, and a 0.7% repossession rate among those offered 96% asset collateralization. A Karlan-Zinman test based on waiving borrowing requirements ex post finds evidence of adverse selection with very low deposit requirements, but not of moral hazard. A simple model and rough calibration suggests that adverse selection and regulatory caps on interest rates may deter lenders from making welfare-improving loans with low deposit requirements. We estimate that 2/3 of marginal loans led to increased water storage investment. Real effects of loosening borrowing requirements include increased household water access, reductions in child time spent on water-related tasks, and greater school enrollment for girls.

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Working Paper
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September 01, 2016
English

Theoretically, weather-index insurance is an effective risk reduction option for small-scale farmers in low-income countries. Renewed policy and donor emphasis on bridging gender gaps in development also emphasizes the potential social safety net benefits that weather-index insurance could bring to women farmers who are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change risk and have low adaptive capacity. To date, no quantitative studies have experimentally explored weather-index insurance preferences through a gender lens, and little information exists regarding gender-specific preferences for (and constraints to) smallholder investment in agricultural weather-index insurance. This study responds to this gap, and advances the understanding of preference heterogeneity for weather-index insurance by analysing data collected from 433 male and female farmers living on a climate change vulnerable coastal island in Bangladesh, where an increasing number of farmers are adopting maize as a potentially remunerative, but high-risk cash crop. We implemented a choice experiment designed to investigate farmers’ valuations for, and trade-offs among, the key attributes of a hypothetical maize crop weatherindex insurance program that offered different options for bundling insurance with financial saving mechanisms. Our results reveal significant insurance aversion among female farmers, irrespective of the attributes of the insurance scheme. Heterogeneity in insurance choices could however not be explained by differences in men’s and women’s risk and time preferences, or agency in making agriculturally related decisions. Rather, gendered differences in farmers’ level of trust in insurance institutions and financial literacy were the key factors driving the heterogeneous preferences observed between men and women. Efforts to fulfill gender equity mandates in climate-smart agricultural development programs that rely on weather-index insurance as a risk-abatement tool are therefore likely to require a strengthening of institutional credibility, while coupling such interventions with financial literacy programs for female farmers.

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Published Paper
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May 01, 2016
English

Weather index insurance protects farmers against losses from extreme weather and facilitates investment in their farms, but randomized evaluations in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have shown low demand for these products at market prices, suggesting the need for alternative approaches. 

Key Findings:

Without substantial subsidies, take-up of insurance was low. Large discounts increased take-up substantially, and interventions designed to increase financial literacy or reduce basis risk also had positive effects. However, at market prices, take-up was in the range of 6–18 percent, which cannot sustain unsubsidized markets.

Insured farmers were more likely to plant riskier but higher-yielding crops. In the three studies that measured changes in farmer behavior, farmers who felt protected against weather risks shifted production toward crops that were more sensitive to weather but more profitable on average.

While self-sustaining markets for weather index insurance have not emerged, finding ways to address weather risk remains a priority for agricultural development. Some possibilities are improving index quality, providing subsidized insurance, selling insurance to institutions, and exploring other risk-mitigating technologies, such as irrigation and stress-tolerant crops.

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Brief
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March 24, 2016
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We investigate the impacts of subsidies for technology adoption, and how savings constraints affect subsidy impacts. In a theoretical model in which risk-averse households face liquidity constraints as well as incomplete insurance, alleviating savings constraints could promote persistence of technology adoption over time (dynamic enhancement), or could instead reduce technology investment by encouraging savings accumulation (dynamic substitution). We implemented a field experiment in rural Mozambique, randomly assigning households one-time subsidies for adopting modern agricultural technology (chiefly fertilizer). Entire localities were later randomly assigned programs facilitating formal savings. In localities with no savings program, subsidy recipients raise their fertilizer use in the subsidized season and for two subsequent unsubsidized seasons. By contrast, in savings-program localities, subsidy impacts on fertilizer use do not persist: households shift resources away from fertilizer, instead accumulating savings in formal bank accounts. The savings programs also appear to improve household ability to cope with risk. These patterns are consistent with the theoretical case of dynamic substitution of subsidies; demand for self-insurance is so high that households scale back technology adoption so as to accumulate savings buffer stocks.

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Working Paper
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January 29, 2016
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We implement an artefactual field experiment in rural Malawi to study revisions of prior choices regarding future income receipts. This allows examination of intertemporal choice revision and its determinants. New tests provide evidence of self-control problems for some participants. Revisions of money allocations toward the present are positively associated with refined measures of present-bias from an earlier survey, and with the randomly assigned closeness in time to the first possible date of money disbursement. We find little evidence that revisions of allocations toward the present are associated with spousal preferences for such revision, household shocks, or the financial sophistication of respondents.

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Working Paper
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January 01, 2016
English
To explain persistent gender gaps in market outcomes, a lab experimental literature explores whether women and men have innate differences in ability (or attitudes or preferences), and a separate field-based literature studies discrimination against women in market settings. We posit that even if women have innate ability that is comparable to that of men, their relative performance may suffer in the market if the task requires them to interact with others in society, and they are subject to discrimination in those interactions. We test these ideas using a large-scale field experiment in 142 Malawian villages where men or women were randomly assigned the task of learning about a new agricultural technology, and then communicating it to others to convince them to adopt. Even though female communicators learn and retain the new information better, and those taught by women experience higher farm yields, the women are not as successful at teaching or convincing others to adopt. Micro-data on individual interactions from 4000 farmers in these villages suggest that other farmers perceive female communicators to be less able, and pay less attention to the women’s messages. 
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Working Paper
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November 18, 2015
English

We examine whether returns to capital are higher for farmers who borrow than for those who do not, a direct implication of many credit market models. We measure the difference in returns through a two‐stage loan and grant experiment. We find large positive investment responses and returns to grants for a random (representative) sample of farmers, showing that liquidity constraints bind. However, we find zero returns to grants for a sample of farmers who endogenously did not borrow. Thus we find important heterogeneity, even conditional on a wide range of observed characteristics, which has critical implications for theory and policy.

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Working Paper
Date:
August 01, 2015

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