Conventional wisdom holds that Sub-Saharan African farmers use few modern inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizers and other agro-chemicals, machinery, and irrigation. Is this true following several years of high food prices, concerted policy efforts to subsidize fertilizer and hybrid seed use, and increased public and private investment in agriculture? Our research revisits perceptions about Africa’s agricultural input landscape, using historical data from more than 22,000 households and 62,000 plots in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. Data were collected under the Living Standard Measurement Study–Integrated Surveys on Agriculture Initiative.
Our Ten Takeaways
- Input use across Sub-Saharan Africa is more complex than prevailing beliefs and macroscale statistics suggest. Here are ten of the most striking newly verified facts: Most smallholders in the countries studied use rudimentary technologies and eschew the use of modern inputs:
- Two-thirds report no use of inorganic fertilizer.
- Eighty-four percent do not use agro-chemicals.
- Only 1 to 3% of land cultivated by smallholders is irrigated, and no more than 10% of households have any form of water control on agricultural plots.
- Accurate data on the use of improved seeds remain hard to find.
- Inorganic fertilizer use is significant in Nigeria (41% of households), Ethiopia (56%), and Malawi (77%), and one-third of households in Ethiopia and Nigeria use agro-chemicals.
- Tractor ownership is low, but less so in Ethiopia, Niger, and Nigeria, suggesting that community rental or sharing schemes facilitate mechanization.
- Within-country input use varies strikingly across subnational regions and agro-ecological zones, with the richer and—surprisingly—the less educated typically using more inputs.
- Although many modern inputs (particularly inorganic fertilizer, improved seeds, irrigation) perform best when used together on the same plot, most households do not so (see figure). Improved agronomic practices remain an important focus for extension services.
Input intensification is happening for maize in particular. Given that maize is not a cash crop, this finding is promising.
6. The literature suggests that yields fall with farm size and that input use falls with farm and even plot size. Household-level factors (such as distance to market and household-specific price of inputs and outputs) cannot explain this puzzle, which requires further research.
7. Farmers do not significantly vary fertilizer application rates according to perceived soil quality, raising another opportunity for gains.
8. Less than 1% of households (except in Ethiopia) use formal or informal credit to purchase modern inputs, corroborating evidence about the weakness of agriculture input credit markets in Africa. Despite recent advances, much scope remains for deepening financial rural markets.
9. Male-headed households apply, use, and own more modern agricultural inputs than female-headed ones. Closing this gap would help empower women and raise their income.
10. Household socioeconomic status explains little of the inter-household variation observed in input use rates. Hence, policy tools can help increase the use of modern inputs.Research credit – World bank Research paper