Types of Research
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Studies of improved seed adoption in developing countries almost always draw from household surveys and are premised on the assumption that farmers are able to self-report their use of improved seed varieties. However, recent studies suggest that farmers’ reports of the seed varieties planted, or even whether seed is local or improved, are sometimes inconsistent with the results of DNA fingerprinting of farmers' crops. We use household survey data from Tanzania to test the alignment between farmer-reported and DNA-identified maize seed types planted in fields. In the sample, 70% of maize seed observations are correctly reported as local or improved, while 16% are type I errors (falsely reported as improved) and 14% are type II errors (falsely reported as local). Type I errors are more likely to have been sourced from other farmers, rather than formal channels. An analysis of input use, including seed, fertilizer, and labor allocations, reveals that farmers tend to treat improved maize differently, depending on whether they correctly perceive it as improved. This suggests that errors in farmers' seed type awareness may translate into suboptimal management practices. In econometric analysis, the measured yield benefit of improved seed use is smaller in magnitude with a DNA-derived categorization, as compared with farmer reports. The greatest yield benefit is with correctly identified improved seed. This indicates that investments in farmers' access to information, seed labeling, and seed system oversight are needed to complement investments in seed variety development.
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.