Using Social Networks to Market New Environmental Technologies


Low productivity in agriculture is a significant development challenge, yet many processes used to increase land productivity have deleterious effects that actually reduce the long-run usability of the land. More sustainable agricultural technologies exist, designed to minimize the adverse effects of farming and improve long-term agricultural yields. However, the success of these technologies depends on farmers’ understanding of the technologies, their decision to adopt technology, and whether the technology is correctly used. Social science and marketing literature on diffusion of technologies has stressed the importance of social networks in technology adoption.This project is designed to provide experimental evidence on how best to leverage social network relationships to improve dissemination of new technologies.

Here, the investigator marketed two different agricultural technologies: 1) Improved Crop Residue Management (CRM), which uses crop residues to create mulch and/or fertilizer; and 2) Pit Planting (PP), in which seeds are planted in shallow pits to improve moisture retention.

The project was designed in two phases to test different methods of information diffusion. In the first phase, a baseline survey was conducted with 3800 farming households. The survey focused on the socioeconomic characteristics of the households as well as their farming practices and production levels. For the first round of interventions, information was provided to treatment households on CRM and PP technologies through extension agents, varying technology marketed, the incentives received by the extension agents, and the type of farmer (lead, peer, or none) that the extension agent was supposed to work with. A midline survey was conducted with all participants and focused on farmer receptiveness and retention of information regarding new technologies. For the second round of interventions and monitoring activities, the investigator conducted an additional round of visits by extension workers or provided information to farmers on CRM and PP technologies prior to the growing season. In addition, during the growing season, selected farming households were visited to see if they had in fact adopted the technologies, and if so, if they were using them correctly. As the last step of this phase, the investigator conducted an endline survey with all participating households. This questionnaire focused on the current level of crop output, as well as the household’s knowledge and use of the CRM and PP technologies.

In the second phase, the investigator designed a social network census to determine connections of all varieties between all villagers. Based on this, seed farmers were chosen of two different types — those with the greatest number of connections overall, and those concentrated in an area — to increase the likelihood that one person will know several seed farmers. This next step involved training the extension workers in how to talk to the selected seed farmers about the chosen agricultural technologies. The last step of this phase included a baseline survey focused on crop output, knowledge and use of the new agricultural technologies, and relationships with the selected seed farmers.

Currently the investigator is in the process of entering, cleaning, and conducting a preliminary analysis of the data.

Project Outcomes

An additional $50,000 was also received from the World Bank Research Committee to help support this project.

Related Presentations

The results of this research were presented at the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Washington, D.C., which is the routing agency for a substantial share of U.S. government aid to Malawi.

Photo from Tobias von der Haar/flickr

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