Mind the adoption gap: Findings from a field experiment designed to scale up the availability of fodder shrub seedlings in Malawi

While dairy production has the potential to diversify smallholder agriculture and increase incomes, there are multiple constraints. One is the consistent provision of quality feed. High protein, leguminous fodder shrubs – also referred to as Fodder Tree Technology (FTT) – can help address this constraint, yet adoption levels are generally low. Implemented in Kenya and Malawi, the Shrubs for Change (S4C) project is employing several approaches to address this situation, including those informed by behavioral science. Given that approximately 500 shrubs per cow are needed to generate enough leaf matter to bolster milk production, promoting FTT at scale necessitates the production, distribution, and successful planting of large numbers of shrub seedlings. We implemented a field experiment in Malawi’s Southern Region in late 2021 to test the effectiveness of a social learning intervention intended to motivate dairy farmers to significantly scale up the production of FTT seedlings. This intervention involved meeting with dairy farmers in 39 randomly selected milk production zones to review the numbers of seedlings being produced vis-à-vis local demand, coupled with the development of action plans to address identified production gaps. While we find that this intervention increased the setting up of private nurseries by 10% (p < 0.05), it only increased overall seedling production by an average of 20 additional seedlings per dairy farmer (p > 0.1). We offer several explanations for this lower than expected and statistically insignificant result, which point to the need for iterative rounds of engagement with farmers when supporting them to take up FTT and other complex agronomic and sustainable land management innovations.

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    Journal articles

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    Hughes K, Kulomo D, Nyoka B


    Agroforestry, fodder shrubs, Fodder tree technology, Malawi, Randomized control trial, Adoption hurdle