Finding Missing Markets (and a disturbing epilogue): Evidence from an Export Crop Adoption and Marketing Intervention in Kenya
Executive Summary — Why do farmers continue to grow crops for local markets when crops for export markets are thought to be much more profitable? Answers may include missing information about the profitability of these crops, lack of access to the necessary capital to make the switch possible, lack of infrastructure necessary to bring the crops to export outlets, high risk of the export markets, lack of human capital necessary to adopt successfully a new agricultural technology, and misperception by researchers and policymakers about the true profit opportunities and risk of crops grown for export markets. Ashraf and colleagues conducted an experimental trial with DrumNet, a social enterprise of Pride Africa, a nongovernmental organization, to evaluate whether a package of services can help farmers adopt, finance, and market export crops, and thus earn more income. This experiment was motivated by a recent push in development to build sustainable interventions that help complete missing markets. Key concepts include:
- Researchers found positive but not overwhelming one-year impacts from DrumNet. DrumNet leads to more farmers growing export crops, increasing their production and lowering their marketing costs.
- While there was no statistically significant impact on income for the full sample of farmers, first-time growers of export-oriented crops experienced a statistically and economically significant increase in income.
- The epilogue to this project is more dismal. Due to DrumNet's lack of compliance with European export requirements, farmers were forced to undersell and thus default on their loans. The implication is that farmers may not be adopting export crops because of the risk of the export market.
In much of the developing world, many farmers grow crops for local or personal consumption despite export options which appear to be more profitable. Thus many conjecture that one or several markets are missing. We report here on a randomized controlled trial conducted by DrumNet in Kenya that attempts to help farmers adopt and market export crops. DrumNet provides smallholder farmers with information about how to switch to export crops, makes in-kind loans for the purchase of the agricultural inputs, and provides marketing services by facilitating the transaction with exporters. The experimental evaluation design randomly assigns pre-existing farmer self-help groups to one of three groups: (1) a treatment group that receives all DrumNet services, (2) a treatment group that receives all DrumNet services except credit, or (3) a control group. After one year, DrumNet services led to an increase in production of export oriented crops and lower marketing costs; this translated into household income gains for new adopters. However, one year after the study ended, the exporter refused to continue buying the cash crops from the farmers because the conditions of the farms did not satisfy European export requirements. DrumNet collapsed in this region as farmers were forced to sell to middlemen and defaulted on their loans. The risk of such events may explain, at least partly, why many seemingly more profitable export crops are not adopted.