The Effect of Irrigation on Poverty Reduction, Asset Accumulation, and Informal Insurance

The impact of small-scale irrigation investments on household consumption, assets, and informal insurance is estimated from a panel of Northern Malian households (1998–2006). Access to irrigation increases household consumption by 27–30% relative to water-recession and rain-fed cultivators. The paper also investigates whether irrigation has secondary impacts on risk-mitigating strategies by reducing covariate risk and reinforcing informal food sharing networks that allow households to insure against idiosyncratic risk. We find that households with irrigation save between 4.5 and 6.4 more tropical livestock units and are 20% more likely to engage in informal food sharing with non-irrigators. This finding suggests that impact estimates that rely on consumption, may underestimate welfare gains by ignoring the household’s savings behavior and informal insurance network.

Diffusion of Composting Knowledge in Mali (with Lori Beaman (Northwestern))

Social networks are an important mechanism for diffusing information when formal institutions are missing, particularly for agricultural households in developing countries.  In this paper, we investigate the effect of social network characteristics and gender on the diffusion of information about an agricultural technology. A social network census of households’ social contacts in 52 villages in Mali identifies key individuals within each village. We then experimentally varied individuals who acted as the seed farmers where information about organic composting was initially provided. Villages were randomly allocated to one of three treatments: seed farmers where farmers were chosen randomly, or farmers with either the highest degree (the number of links) or highest betweenness (a measure of how important the link is in the network) in the villages’ social networks were chosen.  While we do not find that aggregate knowledge is increased in villages where the socially most-connected individuals are targeted, we observe that individuals who are on average less likely to receive the information, women, are particularly disadvantaged in the betweenness villages. This highlights a potential downside of using social networks to diffuse information: socially isolated members of the community may be made worse off. 

Demand and Supply Constraints to Sorghum Adoption in Burkina Faso (with Isabelle Diabire (INERA Burkina Faso), Estelle Plat (Innovations for Poverty Action), Maria Porter (Michigan State), Melinda Smale (Michigan State), Nicolo Tomaselli (Innovations for Poverty Action), Adama Traore (INERA Burkina Faso))

Supply and demand constraints reduce adoption of improved sorghum technology in the West African Sahel. We will work with sorghum breeders and agro-input suppliers in Burkina Faso to compare alternative mechanisms to encourage adoption of improved seed and fertilizer micro-packs. A demand side treatment will be targeted by social network characteristics to understand the information effects of farmer take-up and spillover based on social network characteristics from a randomized distribution of micro-packs.  A social network census will reveal the extent to which villagers insure one another against idiosyncratic risk specifically through exchange of seed, use of complementary inputs, intahousehold labor substitution and assets. The supply side of the randomized control trial will test whether consistent market supply, credit constraints and farmer commitment explain low adoption and potential supply side marketing mechanisms to increase adoption. Comparisons of the effects of demand and supply side interventions will inform the development of index insurance to insure farmers against risk. Finally, we will examine the gender dimensions of adoption. If technology adoption diverts women’s labor from their fields to sorghum fields, the household’s dietary diversity and women’s income may decline, as well as induce intrahousehold labor substitution among women and children.