The GiveWell Blog

Consider the eggplant

Norman Borlaug, the “father of the green revolution,” transformed agriculture (and won a Nobel Peace Prize) for developing new wheat varietals that resisted diseases and greatly increased yields.

You might well wonder: if it’s possible for wheat, is it possible for other crops? Consider the eggplant: a popular purple fruit/vegetable that can be made into everything from hongshao qiezi to baba ghanoush. It’s beloved by many people worldwide, and also by a cute but destructive moth larva.

The “eggplant fruit and shoot borer,” as the name suggests, bores into the shoots and fruit of eggplants, damaging the crops. A new varietal, Bt eggplants, was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), and later supported by partnerships with USAID, Cornell University, and local partners. This varietal is genetically modified to create proteins which are toxic to these little menaces, but safe for humans and the environment.

So: could encouraging the adoption of Bt eggplants create a purple revolution that meets GiveWell’s bar for outstanding programs?

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Gifts of livestock (e.g., Heifer International)

It seems particularly hard to find information about the past impact of “gifts of livestock” programs (such as those promoted by Heifer International). I’ve been thinking about such programs conceptually, though, and I have a lot of trouble understanding the reasoning behind these programs. Two key points: It seems like giving out livestock brings with…

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The Gates Foundation’s agriculture program: Experimenting or floundering?

Here’s what we know about the Gates Foundation’s agriculture program: Gates believes it’s suggestive that “apart from a few states and small, oil-rich countries, no country has managed a rapid rise from poverty without increasing agricultural productivity. In the poorest countries, agriculture employs a majority of the people.” This isn’t a new argument or an…

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Gates Foundation on agriculture funding: Where are the facts?

The Gates Foundation states that “funders have sharply cut their international aid to agricultural development over the past few decades.” It is implied that this is a major reason for the failure to see a “Green Revolution in Africa.” We have been unable to locate support for this claim. Using data from OECD – the…

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Helping farmers is harder than you’ve heard

Imagine that a charity is able to teach a farmer some basic, useful things about farming (like “crop rotation, dip irrigation and the planting of trees that enrich over worked soil” or “disease-resistant cassava replication, distribution and sale; crop diversification; soil conservation; and expanding market opportunities”). Such simple knowledge could last the farmer forever and…

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Agriculture charity evaluation: Incomes boosted are not the same as lives changed

What’s wrong with this “evidence of impact” for high-profile charities? The Millennium Villages project‘s main evidence of impact so far appears to be increasing crop yields by a factor of 4-15x in 3 villages. (H/T to the recent coverage of Millennium Villages on Aid Watch) A KickStart evaluation (available on our website (DOC)) reports that…

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