Like most sub-Saharan African countries, Malawi has an active network of smallholder farmer organizations. As mentioned in the introduction, we worked with members of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a farmer-based organization with membership throughout the country. NASFAM has 43 Farmer Associations across Malawi. An average NASFAM Association covers an entire EPA, which typically comprises multiple communities. In each Farmer Association, NASFAM is organized in Group Action Centers (GACs), which generally match the community or Section level. The distance between these communities or sections range between 10 and 35 kilometers. On average, NASFAM Associations count about 21 GACs each, and each GAC counts about 15 farmer clubs each. A club is made of about 10 farmers who reside within the same village; villages are between 1 to 8 kilometers distance from each other. Although villages that fall within the same community are very similar, they are sufficiently far apart to limit possible treatment contamination.
Three NASFAM Farmer Associations were randomly selected for the study: Chioshya, Mikundi and Mpenu. Since the clubs in each Farmer Association are grouped into GACs, we randomly selected 12 GACs in each of the targeted Farmer Associations. Then, within each of the selected GACs, we randomly selected 12 clubs. Since our main study focus was on legumes, we excluded farmers that did not plant legumes in the 2018 cropping season before sampling.
We implement a clustered RCT with three treatments. Our intervention included three treatments, described below. Treatment assignment was random, made at the village (club) level, and stratified by NASFAM association. A control group and three treatment groups including: (I) the storage technology-only treatment, (ii) the storage technology + village storage treatment, and (III) the storage technology + warehouse storage treatment.
The physical storage technology (Treatment 1)
In treatment 1 (T1: technology intervention), households were trained about the hermetic storage technology and given two 100-kilogram bags for free. The hermetic bags, called the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bag is a 3-layer airtight storage bag that effectively protects grain from pests and molds without the use of chemicals, simply by hermetically sealing its contents. The PICS bags have proved to be effective at storing maize as well as legumes including cowpeas, soybeans and groundnuts (Baributsa et al., 2017; Sudini et al., 2015; Williams et al., 2014). The treatment was designed to help smallholder farmers overcome the storage technology constraint they face from insects and molds.
We chose to provide only two 100-kilogram bags to avoid creating an incentive for sharing bags across households, which could result in treatment spillover or contamination. However, the two 100-kilogram bags allowed farmers to effectively store a substantial share of the average harvest for legumes, which was 520 kg at baseline. The training included in this treatment informed smallholder farmers about the benefits of using PICS bags, as well as the prospects it presents for exploiting seasonal price arbitrage opportunities. This treatment was, therefore, expected to help reduce the expected quality and quantity losses for farmers and thus induce them to store more at harvest, so that they could sell good quality grain at a higher price later in the year.
The village storage program (Treatment 2)
In Treatment 2 (T2: The technology + Village group storage arrangements), households received the same training and two 100-kilogram PICS bags provided in T1 and agreed to store their legumes with fellow club members within their villages. To receive the bags, participants had to agree to also participate in the village storage program. Each club selected a stock-keeper responsible for the club’s stocks based on trust and storage ability (i.e. enough and secure space to store all members’ grain). This treatment was designed to help farmers overcome the storage technology constraint as well as the behavioral challenge associated with individual storage of grain in homes where farmers often face social pressure to share, along with impatience and limited self-control problems (Aggarwal et al., 2018; Ashraf et al., 2006; Baland et al., 2011; Brune et al., 2011).
The group storage arrangement allowed farmers to separate and deposit part of their grain stocks in a club-managed stock that was stored away from home for liquidation when prices rise. Each club independently agreed on storage length, a reservation price, and procedures for early grain withdrawal, which included getting the club’s consent and/or a penalty. Farmers may have been influenced to store longer through village group storage arrangements than they would have on their own. In addition, the amount of grain deposited into the group stocks by an individual farmer is likely to be influenced by his or her peers in the group depending on the groups’ anticipated gains of storage. Given self-control and other problems that may influence farmers to liquidate stocks early, we designed this storage intervention to understand if group storage arrangements implemented locally within the village with a relatively small number of other farmers would induce people to store more grain at harvest.
The warehouse storage program (Treatment 3)
In Treatment 3 (T3: The technology + Warehouse group storage arrangements), farmers received the same training and two 100-kilogram PICS bag given to households in T1, as well as an invitation to participate in a group storage arrangement. The group storage arrangements different from those in T2 in three ways. First, farmers in T3 received some information on financial management. We provided farmers information about the benefits of storing grain (a form of savings) and strategically marketing their products to exploit better prices. Second, storage was at centralized NASFAM warehouses within Group Action Centres (i.e., at the community level) rather than within the farmers’ village. Unlike the village storage program, this implied that more than one club stored in each centralized warehouse (i.e. between 5 to 10 farmers stored together per club for T2, while between 10 to 15 clubs stored together per warehouse in T3, with 5 to 10 farmers per club). Third, clubs using the same warehouse were required to synchronize their grain deposit and withdrawal conditions, which were more stringent than the village storage program’s. This requirement stemmed from the intended use of the stored crop as a guarantee for the loan and the standard loan repayment conditions.
The warehouse storage locations used in this treatment arm had the disadvantage of being much further away from the villages than storage locations in T2 (eg: 10 to 35 km away in T3, versus 1 to 5 km away in T2), and required smallholder to store with a larger group of people from a wider geographic region, with whom they may have had fewer social connections. However, the benefit of storing at a larger warehouse with more farmers in T3 was that this treatment helped farmers assemble their legume for easy off-taking by big traders and processors. This potentially facilitated more trading opportunities at potentially higher prices for participants. This larger collectivization by farmers in T3, potentially increased their bargaining power for higher prices compared to the more localized village collectivization that occurred in T2.
The control group included farmers that did not receive any treatment but resided in the same area as treated farmers and were also members of NASFAM clubs. Farmers in the control group were included in all follow-up data collection efforts throughout the intervention period. The farmers in this group were asked whether they purchased PICS bags on their own before the baseline, and whether they stored their legumes in groups. Only 12 households in the control group reported having bought PICS bags, with the number of bags bought per household ranging from 1 to 10 bags. All 12 of these households reported storing maize in their PICS bags and not legumes, which does not bias our impact estimates.