Assessing the Impact of Farmer Field Schools on Fertilizer Use in China: Evidence from an RCT

Research Seminars
Academic Areas Economics and Public Policy
Krishna B. Kumar, Senior Economist, Director, RAND Labor and Population; Professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School
July 5, 2014 | 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM | Saturday
AC 2 Mini Lecture Theatre, Hyderabad, India
Contact: Susi Mary,
Open to Public
Abstract: In China, a major agricultural challenge is the suboptimal use of fertilizer and the environmental effects associated with overuse. The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture is addressing this problem by instituting farmer field schools (FFS), but this initiative has not been rigorously evaluated. We use a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the FFS program in five counties in Anhui and Hebei provinces, for rice and tomato crops, respectively. We used matched pair random assignment of villages into treatment and control groups, and we randomized additional farmers into an “exposed” group to study diffusion effects. We find no significant effects of the FFS intervention on mean fertilizer use for either crop. However, we find that fertilizer usage is highly heterogeneous, and a simple comparison of means masks the differential response to the FFS program at either end of the distribution. For rice farmers the percentage increase in nitrogen fertilizer usage at the lowest quintile is significantly higher for the treatment group than that for the control group, with a less pronounced drop in usage in the highest quintile. OLS and IV regressions confirm that the distance from the prescribed optimum fertilizer use for rice decreased due to the intervention. For tomato farmers, nitrogen use increased in the lowest quintile more in the treatment group than in the control group, but the reduction in the highest quintile in the control group is substantially higher than that in the treatment group. Overall we conclude that the FFS program improved the optimal use of fertilizer for rice farmers but had insignificant effects for tomato growers. Given the inconclusive results, we conclude that policymakers should revisit plans to scale up FFS in China, paying special attention to crop specificity, heterogeneous implementation quality, and outcomes not limited to fertilizer usage.