Over the last half century, agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa has failed to experience any significant productivity improvements. This is broadly viewed as a central reason why the region has not embarked on a path of sustained economic growth and why mass poverty is still widespread. Low use of modern, but simple, technologies – including fertilizers and hybrid seeds – is often suggested as an explanation for why agricultural productivity has remained stagnant. However, the reason why adoption rates are so low remains somewhat of a mystery.
First large-scale assessment of poor quality technology prevalence
Recent studies have put forward a number of promising explanations, including missing markets for risk and credit, lack of knowledge and behavioral constraints, and uncertainty. In this project, we investigate a complementary explanation that takes its starting point in the technology itself: the quality of the technology as provided in the market. This investigation provides the first large-scale empirical assessment of the prevalence of poor quality technologies (fertilizer and hybrid seed) in local markets in Africa and the implications this has on the economic returns to adoption. To this end, we combine data from laboratory tests with data from researcher-managed agricultural trials. We complement the quality data which was objectively measured with information on farmers’ beliefs about the quality of inputs in the market and their beliefs about the expected yield returns of using either authentic or market based inputs.
We establish that low quality inputs are rife in the local retail markets we surveyed. The results suggest that one reason why smallholder farmers do not adopt fertilizer and hybrid seed is that the technologies available in local markets are simply of too low quality to be profitable. Our findings imply interesting avenues for future research. More generally, our findings highlight the need to identify ways to substantially increase the quality of basic agricultural technologies available to smallholder farmers.