Learning What Works to Boost Agricultural Productivity in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, the agricultural sector’s share in the economy has been in steady decline because of slowing productivity. Over the past two decades, the sector’s share has fallen from 12 percent to 7.6 percent of gross domestic product. This has constrained the government’s efforts to improve living conditions in rural areas, home to a third of the population, half of them living below the poverty line.

In 2002, the Dominican Republic and the IDB began to work together on a program to address this problem. The aim was to increase the productivity of small farmers so they could take advantage of trade agreements to boost their exports. A key component of the program, completed in 2010, taught farmers new agricultural techniques, including land leveling, minimum plowing, drip irrigation, and pasture conservation measures.

To be eligible for the program, known as PATCA, its Spanish acronym, farmers needed to be working a formal plot of land. Participants ranged from rice and fruit growers to cattle breeders and milk producers. In partnership with 78 private companies, participating farmers chose the techniques most appropriate for their products and then worked with one or more companies to implement them. Companies were paid through a combination of government grants and the farmers’ own resources.

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PATCA helped more than 10,000 farmers, successfully reaching its target. An evaluation conducted by the IDB’s Office of Evaluation and Oversight found that the technologies financed through the program improved agricultural productivity, particularly for rice producers and cattle breeders. The evaluation was based on a survey of 1,572 beneficiaries.

Among rice growers, who adopted land-leveling techniques for more efficient irrigation, production value per unit of land cropped more than doubled. In the case of cattle breeders, who adopted pasture conservation techniques, the average weight per head of cattle increased by 17 percent when compared to a group that did not participate in the program.

Given the small sample of beneficiaries and insufficient comparative data about farmers who did not participate in the program, the evaluation could not provide information about the effectiveness of the other agricultural techniques made available. However, the promising results in the areas evaluated led the government and the IDB to start a second phase of the program in 2011, incorporating a rigorous impact evaluation that uses experimental techniques to address the unanswered questions.

The new phase will finance the adoption by small farmers of eight different types of agricultural technologies over the next four years, ranging from micro-aspersion irrigation to post-harvest logistics for vegetables and fruits. The program will evaluate these techniques using a randomized control trial that compares farmers who adopted the different technologies with others who did not participate in the program.

Results from this evaluation will allow the Dominican Republic to know what technologies work best, a big step in transforming agriculture into a thriving sector that can help generate enough income to lift millions out of poverty.