Rural infrastructure for inclusive rural transformation in developing countries: case studies on roads,markets and irrigation from Bangladesh and the Philippines

Daniel Higgins

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Finding effective ways to foster inclusive rural transformation in developing countries is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Improving rural infrastructure has the potential to impact the transformation process in many ways, including by enhancing agricultural productivity, off-farm activities, asset accumulation, resilience, food security and nutrition, social capital, and investments in education. It also has the potential to improve the inclusion of women and other marginalised groups in the transformation process. Aiming to fill evidence gaps and to inform policy, we test these potential impact pathways using rural infrastructure projects in Bangladesh and the Philippines, financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

We first focus on the Irrigated Rice Production Enhancement Project (IRPEP) in the Philippines, which aimed to improve canal irrigation systems for smallholder rice farmers, and to building the capacity of local Irrigators’ Associations. We then analyse the impact of the Coastal Climate Resilience Infrastructure Project (CCRIP) in southwest Bangladesh, which built and improved small rural markets and market-connecting roads to make them usable year-round, including during seasonal flooding, and also built the capacity of local Market Management Committees.

Sets of quantitative and qualitative data were collected for each of the projects. The quantitative datasets consist of both beneficiary and control households, and the samples were designed in order to ensure that, for each project, these two groups of households were comparable, with a low risk of selection bias that could distort the impact estimates.

In Chapter 1 we analyse the impact of IRPEP using a framework of inclusive rural transformation indicators and a statistical matching analysis to compare treated and control households. While we find strong positive impacts on rice yields, we find that impacts on other aspects of the transformation process were heavily influenced by market access and whether the local economy was structured to support lucrative livelihood diversification. Where this was the case, we find a particularly strong link between improved irrigation and livestock production. While poorer downstream farmers benefitted in terms of better yields, broader transformational impacts for this group were curtailed by limited access to inputs and markets. Finally, we find that strengthening Irrigators’ Associations was particularly effective in promoting women’s inclusion and equitable water use along the canals.  

In Chapter 2 we further explore IRPEP’s impacts on agricultural productivity, using a Stochastic Meta-Frontier approach, combined with impact evaluation techniques, to assess impacts on the Technical Efficiency and Frontier Output of beneficiaries at the parcel level. Broadly, we find a strong impact on Frontier Output, suggesting that improved irrigation technology helped to increase production potential, but this was coupled with limited impacts on Technical Efficiency, suggesting that farm management was not improved, highlighting the need for more support in this area in future projects. Analyses for various sub-groups suggest that the project had a pro-poor impact, potentially enhanced by the role of the Irrigators’ Associations in promoting more equitable water use.

Similar to Chapter 1, in Chapter 3 we apply a framework of inclusive rural transformation indicators to assess the impact of CCRIP using a similar statistical matching approach. We find that the project had limited impacts on agricultural production, potentially as beneficiaries were unable to afford the required inputs, but thanks to higher prices and a higher proportion of harvests being sold, agricultural income increased substantially. That this income effect applied to both the dry and monsoon season indicates that the flood-proofing of the market and road infrastructure, with maintenance by Market Management Committees, served its purpose. Impacts on income and livelihood diversification were mixed, and while the poorest sub-group experienced the highest impact on total income, advancements into some off-farm livelihood activities may have been hindered by limited education and skills for this group. Other key findings include a strong impact on social capital driven by the improved roads, but limited re-investment of income into assets, leading to concerns about resilience to shocks in the future. The impact on social capital was especially pronounced for women, but we find limited impacts on their economic inclusion due to restrictive social norms.

Similar to Chapter 2, in Chapter 4 we further analyse CCRIP’s impacts on agricultural productivity using a Stochastic Meta-Frontier impact evaluation approach. We find that Frontier Output was only improved for those with low exposure to floods, implying that the impact of climate-resilient infrastructure on production potential—expected to be achieved by improving access to inputs—may have continued to be hindered by flooding. We also find that Technical Efficiency increased only for those exposed to recurrent floods over time, indicating that, compared to the control group, these beneficiaries were able to consistently avoid reverting to coping strategies that hindered their farm management in the face of these recurrent shocks.

In terms of conclusions, we note that irrigation can be very effective at advancing both the economic and social aspects of the transformation process in project areas with strong market access and a conducive local economy. Climate resilient markets and roads, on the other hand, mainly contributed to the economic aspects of the transformation process (with the exception of social capital), which were achieved with limited impacts on agricultural production, which is the historic driver of the transformation process. In the case of both projects, the strengthening of local institutions to manage the infrastructure was highly beneficial, especially in promoting inclusion of women and the poorest households, although overall impacts on the economic and social inclusion of these marginalised groups was inconsistent.

This thesis highlights the need to go beyond analysing impacts on crop yields when assessing the impacts of rural development projects, as well as highlighting the value of combining Stochastic Meta-Frontier and impact evaluation techniques. Links between improved rural infrastructure and livestock production, and impacts on coping strategies, are noted as interesting areas for future research. In terms of policymaking, we highlight the need to leverage the value of local institutions in enhancing the impact of rural development projects, and to map pre-existing market access and account for this in project design.


Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Ruben, Ruerd, Promotor
  • Bulte, Erwin, Co-promotor
Award date10 Jan 2022
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463437875
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2022


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