‘High Modernist’ Agriculture in Liberia: NGO Expertise and Local Knowledge (2018-2022)

Agricultural extension services are a common instrument to increase agricultural output and improve market access for local farmers in developing countries. As part of an impact evaluation, we assess the effectiveness of agricultural innovation programs by the Welthungerhilfe and Oxfam in 125 communities in southeast Liberia.

The impact evaluation aims to rigorously assess the impact of the program’s agricultural activities on households’ income and living conditions. But apart from the averge treatment effect, my colleague Anselm Hager and I explore the process of knowledge transfer, adaption and implemention of new techniques by local farmers. Our theoretical argument (partly) relates to James Scott’s work that high modernist schemes to improve human well-being can go entirely wrong and even lead to disasters. We do not go that far, but instead consider international development NGOs (instead of the states) as high modernist agents which aim to improve the living conditions of the local population.

NGOs and practitioners largely assume that new information, tools and technology are readily adapted by local stakeholders. But much of this depends on beneficiaries’ preferences, concerns and the appropriateness of such interventions. We hold that the mechanisms of such interventions have not been sufficiently explored so far and hope that the findings can inform NGOs and developing agencies on how to improve implementation practices.