Agricultural technology adoption and persistence

A new paper (gated) by Michael Carter, Rachid Laagja and Dean Yang shows, using a randomized fertilizer subsidy, that reducing costs increases adoption, but also, somewhat in opposition to previous research and importantly, that adoption is persistent into the following season.

First, we provide one of the 􏰄first randomized controlled trials of the impact of an input subsidy program, and the 􏰄first to measure impacts on a range of important household outcomes beyond fertilizer use itself. The only previous study using randomized methods is Dufl􏰅o et al. (2011), who estimate impacts of fertilizer subsidies on fertilizer use alone (in rural Kenya). We show positive impacts of input subsidies (in Mozambique) on a range of outcomes beyond input use, including farm output, household consumption, assets, and housing quality.

Second, we 􏰄find positive e􏰃ffects of input subsidies that persist up to two annual agricultural seasons beyond the season in which the subsidies were off􏰃ered. This result contrasts with Du􏰅flo et al. (2011), who 􏰄find no persistent impact of either 􏰀heavy􏰁 (50%) subsidies for fertilizer or the 􏰀well-timed nudge􏰁 of o􏰃ffering free delivery at the time of the previous harvest. Both treatments raise fertilizer use in the season they are provided, but impacts are very close to zero and not statistically signi􏰄ficantly di􏰃fferent from zero in the next season.

Having spent a lot of time lately with a friend writing a book on fertilizer and the apparent failure to launch of Africa’s Green Revolution, my thoughts immediately go to whether the fertilizer available on the market is real and how perceptions of fake fertilizer are affecting the decisions of farmers to continue (or not) using fertilizer in their fields.

Luckily, a few people are looking into this and maybe we’ll have some answers soon.

Polygamy and Social Insurance

I’m currently reading Unnatural Selection, by Mara Hvistendahl, while I’m sitting here trying to tie up the loose ends on my thesis. Or at least, they were only loose ends before yesterday evening, when a small coding error (really, Erin, ‘<‘ instead of ‘>’) meant that I had written this great paper about why we don’t see any result when in fact there might be a really important result. Good work. It’s not like I had plans this weekend, anyway.

At any rate, losing myself in my dissertation means thinking a lot about ‘nontraditional’ unions and the evolving concept of the family, and reading Mara’s book means thinking a lot about all of the men that are going to spend their lives as bachelors in Asia. What I haven’t been thinking much about is the other end of the spectrum, polygamous marriages, which suddenly came up today. A good friend and PhD candidate at UCLA is working in Kenya right now as a field researcher and is occasionally sharing her thoughts on development and field work, etc. Having spent some time in that part of the world and always eager to read anything I can get my hands on, I keep close tabs on what she’s doing.

She posted recently about polygamous marriages and made a joke about how one episode of the TV show Big Love was the extent of her knowledge of polygamy in America. With the same-sex marriage becoming more and more part of our understanding of marriage, I’ve heard a few mutterings that polygamous marriage might be the next ban that is tackled. Ignoring for a moment the torrid history of polygamy in America and its association with forced marriage of children, it’s interesting to think about the value that additional help might afford. In a place with high rates of mortality for young men (from HIV, for instance), the ability to raise one’s children alongside another person, even that person is not a romantic partner and even once shared your romantic partner, seems much more palatable than knocking it out alone.

And, just to bring this full circle, Mara’s prologue starts with the story of her own youth, where two newly single women, Mara’s mother and a friend, banded together to raise their children. They weren’t co-wives or sister-wives, but it seemed to be an arrangement that worked. If you were in a polygamous marriage, you don’t even have search costs associated with finding someone to help you.