Targeted selection of enterprising farmers

Some farmers in Africa have more difficulty adapting to the new technology offered by development programmes than others. Wageningen behavioural researchers will investigate which farmers can be best served as the target audience of these programmes.

Planting new cocoa trees, pruning older trees, or using more fertiliser can increase the yield of cocoa. However, some farmers find it more difficult to accept this type of new technology than others. Some find the risk of investment to be too large. Others feel it is too expensive or would prefer to wait and see what other farmers do. Development programmes focused on this type of innovation currently often still randomly select farmers with whom to collaborate.

'In order to make these types of training programmes more effective', says Gonne Beekman, economist at Wageningen Economic Research, 'we have to test which farmers will be mostly likely to accept the technology'. These farmers can then be targeted as participants for the programme. One of Beekman’s projects will involve research for a large-scale agricultural programme by Barry Callebaut, a big multinational that makes chocolate. The business plans to train 150,000 farmers to increase the production and quality of their cocoa.


The research is part of a large-impact study which Wageningen Economic Research is conducting into the effect of the Barry Callebaut programme on the harvests and incomes of farmers. Beekman: 'We are going to measure risk aversion with lottery games. Farmers will be given money equivalent to a day’s wages and will be given the choice to triple it or keep it. If they choose to triple it, there is the chance that they could lose the money.' Afterwards, the results of the behavioural game will be compared with the farmers’ actual behaviour on the farm. Based on this research, a recommendation will be made to Barry Callebaut.

Social position

Risk is not the only factor. For example, social position is also important. Many agricultural programmes focus on highlighting exemplary farmers, in the hopes that other farmers will follow suit. According to Maarten Voors, it rarely works out that way in practice, because other farmers do not identify with the farmer held up as an example.

Voors works in the Development Economics Group at Wageningen University and is advising Beekman on the design of this type of research in the Living Lab on behavioural change. He uses randomised controlled trials to research what type of farmer can be impacted by a programme like this. In this type of study, one group of farmers participates in the agricultural programme, while the other does not and the difference between the two is measured afterwards. Voors: 'How do farmers interact with technology? Who adopts it and who doesn’t? Those are interesting questions and I am happy to act as a sounding board in this regard.'

How do farmers interact with technology? Who adopts it and who doesn’t? Those are interesting questions and I am happy to act as a sounding board in this regard.”
Maarten Voors, researcher and professor

Living lab is a new research approach where we not only use a lab-environment, but where we test behavioural insights in a multi-disciplinairy way and in a 'real-life'-situation with 'real people'. WUR, for instance, uses this method for behavioural research on nutrition and climate change.