Farmers in many Sub-Saharan African countries face chronically low crop yields. A number of field studies have been conducted to further understand the sources of these low yields and the constraints that farmers face not only to increasing their yields, but also to translating this gain into higher income and overall improved well-being. Evidence has shown that the uptake of capital intensive technologies such as chemical fertilizers or improved seeds is low, especially in areas where capital is scarce relative to labor. Integrated Soil Fertility Management, or ISFM as it will henceforth be referred to, offers an alternative approach that complements capital intensive approaches with labor intensive techniques such as field preparation, innovative planting, and organic fertilizers.
The focus on this study is on cowpea farmers in Burkina Faso. The evaluation will take a closer look at ISFM techniques and answer two critical questions: 1. How do these techniques compare with traditional practices (pratique paysannes, or PP), and how do they compare with strict capital intensive approaches, and 2. If labor intensive technologies prove to be effective, are they easily adopted by all farmers? If not, what are the constraints to their adoption?
The evaluation will compare traditional (PP) practices both with labor-intensive technologies alone, and then with a combination of labor and capital intensive technologies. This comparison will help researchers answer another critical question: are labor intensive techniques sufficient on their own to generate higher yields, or are they more effective when combined with capital intensive technologies? In other words, do these approaches work as substitutes or complements?
To conduct the randomized evaluation, the implementing partner, Groupe de Recherche et d'Actions pour le Développement (GRAD), will select 99 farming organizations from the existing 262 in the Sanmentenga region of Burkina Faso. After identifying these 99 farming organizations, each will be asked to nominate a potential demonstrator, i.e. a farmer willing to perform the demonstration to the farmers within his/her network. 40 of these farming organizations and their selected demonstrator will be assigned to treatment, and the remaining 59 will be assigned to control. Those assigned to the treatment will receive assistance and expertise from GRAD in setting up the demonstrations, and those assigned to control will not. The outcomes of interest in the first stage are crop yields, which will be measured precisely using crop cut techniques. Researchers will compare the yields of farmers in the control group to those in the treatment group, and further compare the outcomes of the labor intensive techniques alone to the combination of labor and capital intensive techniques. In the second stage, researchers will investigate how each technology is adopted throughout the demonstrators’ farming organization, comprised of roughly 17 farmers each. This will be done through quantitative and qualitative surveys, which will capture information about agricultural knowledge and practices as well as social networks.