Technology adoption and diffusion: The System of Rice Intensification and food security in Bangladesh

Crop yields in developing countries remain low due to limited adoption of new innovations by farmers. The “System of Rice Intensification” (SRI), developed in Madagascar in the 1980s for smallholder farmers like those in Bangladesh, has demonstrated dramatic potential for increasing rice yields without requiring additional purchased inputs (seed, fertiliser, etc.), nor increased irrigation. But these gains, although widely documented in observational data from a variety of countries, are yet to be verified with adequate scientific rigour. 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 very low, as appears true in other countries. Given its purported productivity and earnings potential, low uptake of SRI technology seems rather puzzling. Though not requiring greater material inputs or irrigation water, SRI is a knowledge-intensive cultivation technique that requires significant local adaptation and managerial skills. There is evidence that farmers are constrained by information and skills necessary for local adaptation. Finally, because SRI fields differ visibly from traditional rice fields, social norms and conformity pressures may likewise discourage adaptation and the ultimate adoption decision. In the rural Bangladeshi context of resource constraints on extension and adaptive research facilities and limited access to formal finance sources, social (i.e., village, kinship or friendship) networks may offer a viable alternative.

There has been little research on how best to harness social networks to promote technology adoption and diffusion. The project builds on the existing study being implemented in collaboration with BRAC and supported by IGC. The main objective of this project is to investigate the issue of adoption of SRI, identify constraints, explore various adaptation possibilities, identify SRI systems that are appropriately tailored to the specific biophysical and socio-economic farming environments. Farmers in a randomly selected sub-set (120) of villages were 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.

However, previous research undertaken by Moser and Barrett (2003) in Madagascar has shown that while farmers readily adopt the high yielding variety when introduced, there was significant abandonment of the variety in subsequent years. Duflo et al (2011) also show that in Western Kenya, adoption of fertilizers among farmers receiving a one-time subsidy declined to the same rate as among the comparison group as soon as the subsidy stopped, suggesting that such one-time subsidies do not lead to persistent technology adoption but instead have a temporary effect on fertilizer adoption.

While studies on adoption of improved technologies abound, little evidence exists on the continued use of improved technologies. The proposed study will attempt to bridge this gap by focusing on the mechanics of adoption and abandonment of improved and better technology among poor households in rural Bangladesh. The project will have two objectives: (i) understanding the factors that might lead to sustained adoption of the “new” technology, so that the there is no subsequent reversion to the non-adoption equilibrium and (ii) finding the most cost-effective channel that would lead to rapid diffusion of the technology.

The proposed project has been organized under two separate arms:

  1. Sustained adoption arm: To understand the long-term adoption and diffusion of SRI farmers from half of the 120 villages from first phase will continue to receive an extension service on SRI. This will enable us to investigate whether extension services provided by BRAC should be continued for more than a single period or if a one-time intervention is sufficient for farmers to adopt the new technology permanently. In the remaining 60 villages no services will be provided.
  2. The rapid diffusion arm: This treatment is similar to the baseline treatment provided in the previous phase of the project. The main distinction of the diffusion approach will be that Eligible farmers from this new set of 60 villages will also be assigned to a treatment group under the “rapid diffusion” arm to investigate alternative strategies for facilitating rapid diffusion of SRI. In this rapid diffusion arm, the farmers from their respective village will nominate a set of opinion leaders or role models. With key farmers identified, the project will subsequently train them, and ask them to diffuse the technology among those community members who initially chose them as their leaders. The leaders will not receive any monetary incentives. They will feel ‘privileged’ for being nominated as leaders or role models, and that social recognition will act as incentives for them to diffuse this new technology. The project will complement the existing literature by utilizing an important feature in village economies in the context of South Asia- where village leaders/elders play a crucial role in various social exchanges, including communication and arbitration.

The proposed research, directly addresses the critical food security issues of Bangladesh by focusing on improving the productivity of rice cultivation (rice being the main staple) through the adoption of new technologies and identifying the appropriate diffusion mechanisms. This new phase, an extension of one of the first experimental socioeconomic studies on SRI, will be conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), and on going partner-BRAC, using a wide network of agricultural extension workers and credit delivery systems.

The project results will directly benefit the Bangladeshi rice farming households and consumers by enhancing productivity, employment, rural incomes, and overall food security. The findings will have wider applicability for productivity improvements through adaptation and diffusion of SRI-type technologies using social networks.


  • Research in progress.

    Project last updated on: 18 Sep 2015.