Rainfall index insurance can help small-holder farmers cope with risks to their livelihoods, but take-up of this insurance is often low.

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In order to manage the delivery of social services, central governments often delegate authority to local supervisors. Despite possibly having greater knowledge of the local context, these supervisors may still be unable to fully monitor the performance of public workers. Researchers partnered with the Government of Paraguay to measure the impact of a new monitoring technology—GPS-enabled cell phones—on the job performance of agricultural extension agents (AEAs).

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Globally, many rural farmers lack access to effective savings and storage devices. This issue is particularly acute for rural farmers who receive income as a lump sum at harvest but have ongoing expenditures throughout the year. Researchers worked with existing savings clubs in Kenya to study the effect of two interventions on savings: the provision of communal crop storage devices and the provision of savings accounts earmarked for farm purchases.

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In Ghana, many traditional credit providers like banks and microfinance institutions are wary of extending credit to small-scale farmers, fearful that they will inherit the risks inherent to farming; with limited access to traditional, formal credit, many farmers must rely on costly, informal loans. Researchers are evaluating the impact of an innovative mobile phone-based digital finance program on loan repayment rates, investment decisions, savings, and use of other financial services, as we

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Many farming households in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to formal credit and struggle to make ends meet between harvests. In a previous evaluation, researchers found that increasing access to credit during the hungry season helped farming households in rural Zambia allocate labor more efficiently, leading to improvements in productivity and well-being.

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For millions of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, the shift from subsistence agriculture to engagement with markets is a promising way to improve rural livelihoods. However, engaging with markets often requires the difficult task of adopting new inputs, such as improved seed varieties and fertilizers, as well as implementing new farming techniques.

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In Sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are often paid low prices for their produce, yet customers often pay high prices for staple foods. There are multiple potential explanations for this phenomenon, one of which is that traders may hold market power and collude, leading to higher food prices than there would be if those traders offered competing prices.

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Testing Agricultural Technologies

Using improved hybrid seed varieties may generate higher yields for maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa—where agricultural productivity is low relative to other regions—but many farmers have not adopted these seeds. This project, which was not a randomized evaluation, studied the comparative yields of several seed varieties and farmer purchasing decisions in an effort to understand the performance and adoption of seed varieties in northern Ghana.

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One reason for low incomes among smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa may be a lack of demand for their crops in the markets that these farmers have access to. In Kenya, Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion (SHEP) is a program that trains smallholder farmers to adopt a “market-oriented farming” approach involving shifts to more in-demand crops and adoption of new agricultural practices.

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Agricultural yields for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa tend to be lower than the rest of the world, and African farmers tend to use fewer productivity-enhancing agricultural technologies like fertilizer. This may be because of poor access to markets for farmers in remote rural areas, leading to higher delivered prices for inputs, lower net prices for output, and therefore, lower profitability of yield-enhancing technologies.

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In Burkina Faso, as in many sub-Saharan countries, farmers struggle with low crop yields. Most established techniques to increase agricultural productivity rely on the use of technologies like fertilizer, but these inputs are expensive and inaccessible to many farmers in the region.

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In parts of southern Africa, environmental pressure on the land from over-grazing has contributed to land and water shortages and made communities more vulnerable to drought. In Namibia, researchers are measuring the impact of a community-based natural resource management program on livestock assets, income, social cohesion and land quality.

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A fertilizer retailer in Tanzania

Small farm productivity in sub-Saharan Africa lags behind that in Asia and other parts of the world. One reason for this may be low rate of adoption of inputs such as fertilizer. In Tanzania one reason for this may simply be the absence of local retailers, especially in more remote areas. Researchers are testing if their absence may be because of the costs of entering these markets or demand, with interventions targeted to each.

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Farmers in Burkina Faso are selling more of their crops and taking on non-agricultural work

The agricultural sector in Sub-Saharan Africa has been changing in recent years, with more farmers living near urban areas, selling more of their crops for income, and also engaging in more off-farm work and non-agricultural activities to supplement farm revenue. However, little evidence exists thus far on how these trends are affecting nutrition, especially that of the most vulnerable members of farming families—women and children.

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