Development in the Midst of Drought: Evaluating an Agricultural Extension and Credit Program in Nicaragua
Abstract: This essay is an evaluation of year one of the Rural Business Development (RBD) program for small rice farmers in León, Nicaragua. The RBD program is administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and is designed to deliver agricultural extension advice and affordable credit in the form of inputs to farm households. This essay estimates the average impact of the program on rice yields and revenues utilizing inverse propensity score weighting combined with linear regression. In conducting statistical inference, it also accounts for the fact that agricultural outcomes are likely correlated over space in a small area such as the one studied here. The results suggest that the program had no impact on average, likely due to the presence of a severe drought during the 2008 – 2009 rice growing season, but that poorer households may have done better than their wealthier counterparts. This does not account for program costs, which when factored in would surely make the overall net benefit of the program negative. There may very well be long term benefits to exploiting extension advice and better access to credit created by the RBD program, and the it appears to have shielded poorer farmers somewhat from the impact of the drought. But the results highlight the danger of introducing programs aimed at raising productivity and incomes in areas subject to system unanticipated shocks. Incorporating risk management techniques or insurance against systemic risk into extension programs may improve welfare and encourage broader participation in agricultural productivity programs going forward.
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