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Precise agricultural statistics are necessary to track productivity and design sound agricultural policies. Yet, in settings where intercropping is prevalent, even crop yield can be challenging to measure. In a systematic survey of the literature on crop yield in low-income settings, we find that scholars specify how they estimate the yield denominator in under 10% of cases. Using household survey data from Tanzania, we consider four alternative methods of allocating land area on plots that contain multiple crops, and explore the implications of this measurement decision for analyses of maize and rice yield. We find that 64% of cultivated plots contain more than one crop, and average yield estimates vary with different methods of calculating area planted. This pattern is more pronounced for maize, which is more likely than rice to share a plot with other crops. The choice among area methods influences which of these two staple crops is found to be more calorie-productive per ha, as well as the extent to which fertilizer is expected to be profitable for maize production. Given that construction decisions can influence the results of analysis, we conclude that the literature would benefit from greater clarity regarding how yield is measured across studies.
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 Tanzania’s National Panel Survey, our research contrasts measures of smallholder productivity using production per hectare harvested and production per hectare planted.
An initial analysis (Research Brief - Rice Productivity Measurement) looking at rice production finds that yield by area planted differs significantly from yield by area harvested, particularly for smaller farms and female-headed households. OLS regression further reveals different demographic and management-related drivers of variability in yield gains – and thus different implications for policy and development interventions – depending on the yield measurement used. Findings suggest a need to better specify “yield” to more effectively guide agricultural development efforts.