Types of Research
There is a wide gap between realized and potential yields for many crops in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Experts identify poor soil quality as a primary constraint to increased agricultural productivity. Therefore, increasing agricultural productivity by improving soil quality is seen as a viable strategy to enhance food security. Yet adoption rates of programs focused on improving soil quality have generally been lower than expected. We explore a seldom considered factor that may limit farmers’ demand for improved soil quality, namely, whether farmers’ self-assessments of their soil quality match soil scientists’ assessments. In this paper, using Tanzania National Panel Survey (TZNPS) data, part of the Living Standards Measurement Study – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA), we compare farmers’ own assessments of soil quality with scientific measurements of soil quality from the Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD). We find a considerable “mismatch” and most notably, that 11.5 percent of survey households that reported having “good” soil quality are measured by scientific standards to have severely constrained nutrient availability. Mismatches between scientific measurements and farmer assessments of soil quality may highlight a potential barrier for programs seeking to encourage farmers to adopt soil quality improvement activities.
Relative to chronic hunger, seasonal hunger in rural and urban areas of Africa is poorly understood. No estimates are compiled, and limited evidence exists on prevalence, causes, and impacts. This paper contributes to the body of evidence by examining the extent and potential drivers of seasonal hunger using panel data from the Malawi Integrated Household Panel Survey (IHPS). Farmers are commonly thought to use various strategies to smooth consumption, including planting “off-season” crops, investing in post-harvest storage technologies, or generally diversifying farm portfolios including livestock products and/or wild crops. Similarly, when markets are available, farmers may diversify through off-farm income sources in order to purchase food in lean seasons. We investigate whether seasonal hunger – distinct from chronic hunger – exists in Malawi, drawing on two waves of panel data from the LSMS-ISA series. We examine the extent of seasonal hunger, factors associated with variation in seasonal hunger, and how recurring and longer-term seasonal hunger might be associated with various household welfare measures. We find that both urban and rural households report experiencing seasonal hunger in the pre-harvest months, with descriptive evidence suggesting male gender, age, and education of household head, livestock ownership, and storage of crops are associated with lower levels of seasonal hunger. In addition, we find that Malawian households with seasonal hunger harvest crops earlier than average – a short-term coping mechanism that can reduce the crop’s yield and nutritional value, possibly perpetuating hunger.
Common estimates of agricultural productivity rely upon crude measures of crop yield, typically defined as the weight harvested of a crop divided by the area harvested. But this common yield measure poorly reflects performance among farm systems combining multiple crops in one area (e.g., intercropping), and also ignores the possibility that farmers might lose crop area between planting and harvest (e.g., partial crop failure). Drawing on detailed plot-level data from the LSMS-ISA in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, we show how various yield measurement decisions affect estimates of smallholder yields for a variety of crops. We consider the effect of measuring production by plot area, area planted, and area harvested, of trimming the top 1% and 2% of values, and of considering different groups of farmers according to total area planted.