Discussion Paper 1654: Limited Attention and Information Loss in the Lab-to-Farm Knowledge Chain: The Case of Malawian Agricultural Extension Programs

Credit: M.Maher/IFPRI

Agricultural extension plays a crucial role in promoting agricultural productivity, increasing food security, improving rural livelihoods, and promoting agriculture as an engine of economic growth in developing countries. Yet, for agricultural knowledge to move from theory into practice, or from lab to field, extension services provide a critical linkage directly to farmers.

In a new IFPRI Discussion Paper, authors Chiyu Niu and Catherine Ragasa assess the flow of technical advice along the knowledge chain from scientists to farmers to identify the challenges in information provision. The advancement of social network literature has fostered the lead or contact farmer modality or farmer-to-farmer approach of information transmission. However, there is limited evidence regarding the information efficiency of this modality, and the reasons of the potential information loss. In this article, we assess information efficiency along the knowledge transmission chain from researchers to agricultural extension agents (EAs) to lead farmers (LFs) to other farmers. By asking the same set of questions about a fairly well known technology, pit planting, we construct a measure of knowledge at each node of the knowledge transmission chain. Descriptive evidence shows that the majority of information loss happens at the EA-to-LF link, and that the loss is potentially caused by limited attention of both EAs and LFs to all important details of the technology. With more evidence about the importance of knowledge for technology adoption, we suggest that EAs emphasize all crucial dimensions of an agricultural technique during demonstrations and visits in order to reduce information loss.

By: Chiyu Niu  and Catherine Ragasa, 2017

Click here to read and download