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In March I went to Ghana together with another student and our professor Daan van Soest to conduct a field experiment for our thesis. In cooperation with the World Bank and the government of Ghana, we conducted an experiment with farmers in the North of Ghana. This experiment is part of a large project, the Sustainable Land and Water Management Project, which is aimed at reducing land degradation and to enhance maintenance of biodiversity by planting trees. To increase the number of trees which survive, farmers are financially incentivized to take care of the trees. In our experiment we tested different treatments to select farmers to participate in the program.
What did a day in the field in Ghana look like? We started with a training day, to train the people who were going to conduct the experiment in the field, since we don’t speak the local language. The communities we visited were quite primitive, with no phone connection. So the district officer needed to go one day before we wanted to come to the community to tell the farmers we were coming. During the days of the experiment, you start early in the morning to drive to the community. You first need to pick up one of the field workers, since the communities are not on the map so otherwise we couldn’t find the place. When we arrived, we started with randomizing farmers into the experiment, and check if they fulfilled the requirements to participate in the project. Then the field workers started with surveying the farmers and conducting the experiment. We tested the protocol of the experiment in a lab experiment at Tilburg University, however, there are always things you didn’t expect upfront. For example, the students participating in the lab experiment all know their age, while this is not straightforward for the farmers in Ghana. Also, in Tilburg everyone has an address, while in the communities to locate where the farmers live, you get answers such as “near the mango tree”.
When I started the Master Economics, I wasn’t aware of the possibility to conduct a field experiment for your thesis. I find it especially interesting to see how people actually behave, instead of only studying theories in class about agents who always act perfectly rational. I got the chance to see how bounded rationality plays a role in decision making. The field experiment in Ghana was definitely an extremely valuable experience for me.