Diffusion of Technologies within Social Networks: Evidence from a Coffee Training Program in Rwanda

Coffee is one of Rwanda’s major exports but coffee production is dominated by small producers. Finding ways to improve yields could help small‐scale farmers shift out of subsistence farming into more profitable activities. Assuming that knowledge deficits are the main hindrance to the adoption of productivity‐enhancing agronomic practices, training on agricultural technologies could promote the take‐up of these practices, increase productivity, and improve economic outcomes for these poor farmers. This study conducts a randomised experiment to measure the effect of an agronomy training program on small‐holder productivity and adoption of best agronomic practices. It also measures the diffusion of the program’s effects, if any, within farmers’ social networks, by linking each grower to the people with whom they might share the information provided in the trainings.

In collaboration with Technoserve (an agri‐business NGO), this study looks at an agronomy training program in Nyarubaka‐ a rural sector in the Southern Province of Rwanda. Among 1600 farmers from 27 villages who signed up for Technoserve’s agronomy trainings, households were randomly assigned to a treatment (training) or comparison (no‐training) group. Villages in the treatment group were also randomly assigned to different intensity levels: in some villages 1⁄4 of registered households received treatment (i.e. 3⁄4 comparison), others 1⁄2, and others 3⁄4.

Preliminary findings show that training attendance rates tend to be higher in villages where more farmers are getting access to the training, which suggests a ‘critical mass’ effect. The data also suggests that, though the trainings do make the farmers more knowledgeable about best agronomic practices, there is a gap between awareness of the practices and their actual implementation, as farmers are more likely to adopt practices that require the least effort (such as withholding from spraying pesticides) over practices that are distinctively more time‐consuming and “unpleasant” tasks such as pruning.

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