The Vegetable Oil Development Project-Phase 2 (VODP2), cofounded by IFAD, aims at promoting and consolidating oil seeds value chains in Eastern and Northern Uganda. Our proposed study aims at providing a rigorous impact evaluation of the VODP2 extension service intervention, which is supplied by pay-for-service providers and includes both technical services for increased oilseed production/productivity and market information (i.e. training about farming as a business, business oriented group development, marketing).
According to the VODP2 outline, the project activities are expected to be carried out in four hubs of Lira, Eastern Uganda, Gulu and West Nile covering 51 districts and targeting 140,000 households. A hub comprises a number of districts (between five and nineteen) which are further divided into sub-counties (from 6 to 15 per district). The project operates in those regions through private service providers in charge of delivering an homogeneous set of project activities detailed below. Project interventions are targeted to farmer groups. Farmer groups may be already existing and active or they may have been created for the purpose of the project. In the latter case, service providers are in charge of supporting group formation, mobilization and sensitization for oilseed production, through capacity building activities. On average groups are composed by 15-20 members, have a leader and are composed by both men and women. Eligibility criteria for participating in VODP2 are the willingness of the group, the common interest in farming oilseeds, possibly due to some experience in growing oilseeds. A list of groups eligible to receive the project intervention is then compiled by the service providers. The project intervention is designed to address farmers’ difficulties in accessing information about improved production techniques including information about oil seeds, as well as recommended husbandry practices, joint with specific information on market opportunities for oil seeds. The information package on production techniques includes the following contents delivered to all members of farmer groups: use of improved seed varieties, correct plant spacing, how to practice intercropping with other crops, use of herbicides, other practices in weed control, use of pesticide and fertilizer use, storage techniques, pre-storage treatment, and seed treatment. This information is disseminated by extension workers contracted by the VODP2 project through the following activities:
• Farmer Field Demonstration sites (agronomy; improved seed; fertilizer; rhizobium inoculum; pest & diseases; etc)
• Training on post-harvest handling (quality parameters & metrics; time of harvest; harvest techniques; threshing; drying sheets; cleaning; storage; pests & diseases; bulking; etc)
• Training on conservation agriculture (water conservation such as grass strips, agro-forestry; minimum & zero-tillage, soil fertility enhancement including organic matter management & fertiliser use; crop rotations; water harvesting & moisture retention; use of multi-purpose trees for livestock and domestic use; etc)
• Training on farm mechanisation & labour saving techniques (animal traction; various implements; tractor hire; portable threshers; etc)
Moreover the package of information intervention includes specific information on market and business opportunities, i.e. prices for inputs and where to purchase them, prices of outputs and where to sale the products, value addition opportunities and expected profits etc). This information is disseminated by extension workers contracted by the VODP2 project through the following activities:
• Continuous provision of market information including prices for oil seeds throughout the season and project period; this service could be provided through, for example, SMS alert services or other information technology devices, as in other studies (Jensen, 2007; Goyal 2010; Fafchamps and Minten, 2012)
• Financial and business training for farmers (financial literacy, budgeting and record keeping, cropping calendars, etc);
• Training on market information and market intelligence gathering skills: timely provision of prices for different markets and dealers, required quality standards, possible solution to add value to their production
• Training of farmers in household & village oil pressing in outlying areas (operation & maintenance of ram press; other mechanical presses; edible oil hygiene; recipes; meal by-product utilization; etc)
• Training of farmers on complementary income generating activities such as beekeeping and livestock keeping)
• Nutrition awareness campaigns (dietary considerations; preparation of oilseed pastes and edible oil; kitchen gardens; food security crops in the farming calendar; etc)
All of the households receive training on the following two cross cutting issues:
• Training on HIV/AIDS mainstreaming (sensitisation; voluntary testing; overcoming stigma; ARVs; coping mechanisms in affected households; etc) and
• Training on Gender & youth mainstreaming (division of labour in the cropping and post-harvest calendar; the household budget & equity in allocation of oilseeds proceeds; etc)
The evaluation exercise exploits the roll-out structure of the VODP2 project to implement a randomized controlled trial. The project intends to gradually reach the identified beneficiaries, given resource constraints in the possibility to reach all districts at the same time. The level of randomization will be at sub-county level, as it allows to meet organizational issues with research requirements. Randomization at the farmer level is not feasible for several reasons: economies of scale in providing the extension intervention; infeasibility of excluding certain members of a particular farmer group from an extension education session offered to other members; the certainty of externalities, especially in education; concerns about intra-group randomization harming the group’s solidarity. Randomization at a higher level, such as the district, would minimize the risk of externalities between groups. However, this proved not to be possible, due to local organizational constraints.
The roll-out phase will involve a sample of sub-counties randomly assigned to receive the treatment in different moment of time (roll-out phasing). One random group of sub-counties (treated group) will receive the entire package of project interventions at beginning 2016. The second group (control goup) will receive the treatment in mid 2017 (but will start the planting season in August 2017). Both groups will be surveyed in December 2015/January 2016 (baseline survey), before any project activities have started yet. A mid-line survey will be carried out in January 2017 and an endline survey in July 2017 (after the endline survey, the control group may implement the project package).
Depending on the ways extension services are organized, we may face non-compliance, as farmers may not participate training sessions. As long as the service provider visits groups in their geographical context and incentivize farmer participation to training session, the risk of attrition should be minimized.
Surveys will be administered to farmers and group leaders. We will have two main sources of covariates to improve precision and to study heterogeneity in treatment effect. First, data will be collected on individuals’ farming characteristics, farming history as well as useful group-level covariates (e.g. length of group’s existence). Second, we will conduct a detailed household survey at three points in time (baseline, midline, end-line) obtaining data on household demographic characteristics, income, assets, agricultural activities and productivity. Detailed sections of the questionnaires will be dedicated to oilseeds production and knowledge, access to extension services and subjective expectations about returns from oilseeds production and prices.
A mixed approach will also be used through which some sentinel indicators including most-significant changes will be recorded using qualitative instruments. Qualitative data collection through focus group discussions with those who adopt oil seeds technologies as well as those who chose not to will be done to understand facilitators and barriers to adoption of improved oilseed technologies.