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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Prior evidence on small grants programs to female-owned businesses has found that women entrepreneurs are less likely to invest this capital into their businesses than men are. The intersection between household and business needs seems to play a role in this.

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While workers in larger firms tend to be more productive than those in smaller ones, the underlying reasons for these differences are unclear. In India, researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation among data entry employees, to measure the impact of different work arrangements (office- versus home-based) on worker productivity.

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Business training programs aim to instill standardized management practices in participants in hopes that these will help raise business performance. However, decision makers and researchers have struggled to find conclusive evidence on the firm-level impacts of these trainings.

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Credit: World Bank Erick Kaglan

What makes someone a successful entrepreneur? Is it a matter of teaching the right business skills, or instilling a proactive entrepreneurial mindset? If the latter, can these personal qualities be taught? This research in Togo investigated these questions, and found that a training focused on personal initiative skills, such as self-starting, future-oriented, and persistent behavior, was more successful than a traditional business training at increasing sales and profits.

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Evidence suggests that approaches based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve mental health and reduce crime and violence in post-conflict areas. However, delivering CBT programs is a challenge in settings that lack trained staff and therapeutic facilities. Researchers in Sierra Leone are exploring alternate delivery platforms to bring evidence-based mental health interventions to youth facing conflict and adversity in West Africa.

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There is a growing body of evidence on the efficacy of SMS reminders to encourage banking clients to save more. Researchers in the Dominican Republic partnered with savings and credit institution Banco Unión to conduct two randomized evaluations of tailored SMS reminders: The first on their ability to influence remittance recipients’ decisions to open savings accounts, and the second on their ability to influence existing account-holders’ decisions to save.

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In Latin America, student achievement in science is lower than the global average. A promising method to improve educational quality in rural, low-resource areas is “interactive radio instruction” (IRI), a standardized curriculum of recorded lessons that solicit student participation. Building on the positive results of other IRI programs, researchers in Paraguay are evaluating the learning effects of an IRI curriculum for early childhood science education.   

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A universal basic income (UBI) is a specific form of unconditional cash transfer: enough to meet basic needs, and delivered to everyone within a community. The idea of a UBI has received global attention for varied reasons – as a way to alleviate extreme poverty, to reduce inequality, or to provide a more robust safety net to workers in rapidly changing labor markets – but little rigorous evidence exists on the impacts of a long-term commitment to providing one.

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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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Access to banking services can help households better manage financial decisions. Yet households may not use the services if they do not trust the institutions, if service quality is poor, or if the services disrupt local financial relationships. Researchers examined the impact of access to banking services for the first time on households in rural Kenya.

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Teacher experience is a key factor in student learning, but many schools in the United States experience high rates of teacher turnover—especially schools serving low-income communities. One reason that retention may be low in these schools is that student loan debt is a significant burden for teachers. As a result, federal loan forgiveness programs may be an effective way of retaining teachers, but many teachers do not take advantage of these programs.

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Do low levels of trust limit the spread of ideas and knowledge among small-scale firms in African cities? A new study provides micro-level descriptive evidence on the spatial patterns of economic activity among small business owners in one of the fastest-developing cities in southern Africa: Lusaka, Zambia. Innovations for Poverty Action worked with researchers to collect new survey data to investigate the relation between knowledge sharing, trust, and business agglomeration within the city.

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In countries like India, female labor force participation is low despite rapid economic growth. In partnership with the government of Madhya Pradesh, researchers offered women individual bank accounts to evaluate the impact of increasing women’s financial control on labor market participation and earnings. Linking earnings from a government workfare program to women’s bank accounts led to increased employment both within the program and in the private sector.

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Access to quality jobs is a pressing concern in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers have partnered with Samasource and Innovations for Poverty Action to conduct a randomized evaluation measuring the impact of a digital vocational training program, with and without an employment program, on formal employment of young Kenyans.

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Scholars going back to Adam Smith and Max Weber have hypothesized that religiosity promotes economic success. In the Philippines, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of an evangelical Protestant religious values and theology education program on individuals’ economic and subjective wellbeing. Results show that the program increased religiosity and incomes, but decreased self-perception of relative economic wellbeing.

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In Mexico, as in many other countries, retirement savings levels are low. The situation is worse for informal workers and the unemployed, who cannot rely on employer contributions to help build their nest eggs.

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Helping the ultra-poor develop sustainable livelihoods is a global priority, but policymakers, practitioners, and funders are faced with competing ideas about the best way to reduce extreme poverty.

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In Malawi, local tax compliance levels are low and the collection process is sometimes corrupt. At the same time, people are reluctant to pay taxes until they see material benefits from their taxes, contributing to a vicious cycle of non-payment and poor government service delivery.

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