What we do: We deliver post-harvest credit and storage to help smallholder farmers sell later, earn more, and avoid hunger. In rural communities with a single rain-fed farming season, families experience variable food security. They are food secure right after the harvest, when food is cheap and plentiful. But as crop supplies dwindle due to premature sale and prices rise commensurately by an average of 66%, families struggle to put food on the table. These months are popularly known as the “lean season,” due to widespread food insecurity. Post-harvest credit and storage can help farmers sell later in the year, earn significantly more, and avoid seasonal hunger. Farmers use our cash loan to pay for critical post-harvest expenses like health emergencies, enabling them to avoid selling their crops immediately. They use the improved storage bags we provide, designed by crop scientists at Purdue University, to safely store without fear of crop loss to pests and rodents. As a result, farmers are able to take what is ordinarily a source of vulnerability and turn it into an economic opportunity to earn more from their crops. In the last three years, we have delivered over $200,000 in post-harvest credit and storage bags, reaching nearly 8,000 individuals. In our first year, we ran a small-scale impact evaluation which found that, seven months after the harvest, farmers who received our loan held onto 57% more of their harvest than those who did not. Our approach: Experimental approaches to development economics, pioneered by Nobel Laureates Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer, have changed the game. We now know two critical facts. First, most social programs fail to produce any impact at all. Second, among the programs which succeed in making an impact, the best outperforms the median by an order of magnitude. Every decision our organization make is grounded in those facts. We start with an outcome we care about; improving food security, for example. We look at the evidence on what works to improve food security. Then, among the well-evidenced programs, we compare per dollar impact with the aim of finding the 99th percentile program. That process drove us towards post-harvest credit and storage. Two randomized control trials in Kenya and Tanzania found that post-harvest loans generated a 29% to 40% return on investment to farmers. Given our cost of implementation, our best estimate is that is that post-harvest loans are ~ 2x as effective as an unconditional cash transfer at raising people’s incomes when they need it most: that is, when they would otherwise struggle with hunger. Moving forward, we retain a fundamental open-mindedness with respect to what we do. If we find out that there are more cost-effective interventions which our organization is well-positioned to implement, we’re open to shifting course. However, we would not frame it that way. For us, the course would remain constant: to improve people’s lives as much as we can with each dollar we spend. Our Plans: In 2021, with support from Founders Pledge and USAID, we’re delivering over $112,000 in post-harvest credit and storage to 1,000 families. We’ll work with a Berkeley-Stanford team of economists led by Ethan Ligon to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of our program this year, so in Q3 2022 we’ll have the most robust estimate of our impact we’ve ever had. If post-harvest loans turn out to be as or more cost-effective than we expect, we will scale them to deliver 24,000 post-harvest loans by 2024, reaching 168,000 individuals. Alternatively, if it turns out that post-harvest loans are less cost-effective than the available alternatives, we’ll shut the program down and look to alternate options.
We work hand-in-hand with rural communities to tackle seasonal hunger and malnutrition.