Technology adoption and food security in rural Bangladesh

The “System of Rice Intensification” (SRI), developed in Madagascar in the 1980s for liquidity-constrained smallholder farmers like those in Bangladesh, has demonstrated dramatic potential for increasing rice yields without requiring additional purchased inputs (seed, fertilizer, etc.), nor increased irrigation. But these gains, although widely documented in observational data from a variety of countries, have yet to be verified with adequate scientific rigour. Therefore the actual ‘worth’ of SRI technology as a key catalyst for rice productivity improvement and ultimate poverty alleviation remains quite contentious; the nature of SRI poses a challenge for evaluation and assessment of adoption and “the debate continues”.

Moreover, although SRI has been introduced at a small, pilot scale in some locations in Bangladesh, casual empirical observations suggest that adoption and diffusion rates appear to be low, as appears true in other countries. Given its purported productivity and earnings potential, low uptake of SRI technology seems rather puzzling. Because SRI fields differ visibly from traditional rice fields, social norms and conformity pressures may likewise discourage adaptation and the ultimate adoption decision.

The main objective of this project is to investigate the issue of adoption of SRI, identify constraints, and explore various adaptation possibilities, to identify SRI systems that are appropriately tailored to the specific bio-physical and socio-economic farming environments. We will, draw on the recent advances in theories of social networks in order to investigate whether existing social networks might be an effective substitute for financial inducements (e.g., seasonal credit) to encourage SRI diffusion while generating rigorous experimental evidence on the productivity and broader economic impacts of SRI adoption.

This study will be the first examining the effects and diffusion of SRI to a wider scale using RCTs. In order to understand the differential impact of alternative SRI adoption instruments to promote uptake and to identify the most cost-effective mechanisms for subsequent scale-up by BRAC, we randomize different treatments that will be made available to farmers in 200 targeted villages (about to a total of 4000 farmers). Farmers in all these villages will be randomly assigned to treatments after a rigorous training and an information session on SRI techniques. Farmers in a randomly selected sub-set (120) of these villages will be offered fixed or variable financial incentives to adopt and/or to refer the new SRI technology to a friend, relative or acquaintance in the same village.

The findings from this proposed research will benefit Bangladeshi rice producing and consuming households by enhancing productivity, employment (particularly female employment), rural incomes and by embellishing overall food security aims and objectives. The data, research findings and policy recommendations will also directly benefit the Bangladeshi government, development agencies involved directly with Bangladesh and development agencies with aims to transfer directly or indirectly some of the pro-poor lessons learnt from the investigation. The findings of the study will also shed important light on the hitherto under-researched area of the formation, generation and expansion of prop-poor social networks.