Mind the Gap: Exploring the Disparities between Smallholder Farmer Practice and Potential

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Agricultural research aimed at developing countries has typically focused on advancing the technological frontier: developing new tools, fertilizers, and hybrid seeds that increase crop yields, and ultimately, resiliency in the face of climate variability. However, the fact that average small farm yields consistently fall well below what is technically possible indicates that the benefits from these new innovations are not being realized by farmers.

While much has been done to understand the supply-side constraints, such as input supply networks, that prevent farmers from adopting valuable new technologies, there are also significant demand-side obstructions.

To “Mind the Gap” means better understanding these roadblocks that stop farmers from adopting new innovations, even when they are locally available, and working to design interventions to close yield gaps, increase productivity, and secure more sustainable livelihoods – ultimately paving the way out of poverty.

Workshop Objectives:

This workshop was designed to allow for discussion of the pressing problem of the “yield gap” and the constraints to technology adoption that cause it. The main goal is to share findings from research and explore the potential for integrating salient ideas from these findings into development programming, particularly in the areas of technological innovation, resilience, scaling, climate smart agriculture, and extreme poverty.

The audience was thought leaders, technical experts and program designers interested in improving the efficacy of efforts to scale agricultural technologies to advance food security around the world. Discussion and real engagement of the issues was encouraged, and new ideas and synergies emerged from the workshop and bringing this issue of “MIND THE GAP” to the research and policy-making forefront.

We lined up three great researchers from Cornell, Yale and Michigan State Universities to lead this important conversation about farmer practice and potential.  Experts from Grameen FoundationCARE, and the One Acre Fund also shared their deep in-the-field knowledge of these issues.

View the full workshop agenda.

Presentations:

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Details of the workshop:

This workshop highlighted three categories of farmer-level constraints to the adoption of new technologies that our research has identified, and, through discussion, lay out potential strategies and interventions to reduce the yield gap by overcoming these barriers. Briefly, the categories are:

1. Risk and Liquidity

Farmers are often hesitant to adopt beneficial technologies because they are seen as prohibitive income and production gambles. New financial instruments like index insurance and other support systems such as improved credit access are helping to mitigate these un-hedged risks, allowing farmers to take on prudent risk and invest more securely in their futures.

2. Beliefs and Behavior

Behavioral factors have significantly constrained farmers’ acceptance of new technologies. Effective mechanisms are being tested to improve smallholder farmer knowledge and decision-making about the acquisition and deployment of advanced tech- nologies. Research, for example, into the role social networks can play in increasing technology adoption is also proving very promising

3. Profitability

The yield gap can be particularly immovable when available technologies, once applied, do not actually benefit farmers. Poor soil, lack of access to markets, and unprofitable input prices, all hinder a farmer’s ability to sustainably improve food and wealth security. Tailoring technologies to take into consideration agro-ecological differences enables those modified technologies to be more successfully scalable in heterogeneous conditions. The adaptation of new mechanisms for smallholders to collectively capture economies of scale, navigate local commercial systems, and remain a part of the value chain, is an encouraging area of research that will help to relax constraints and allow the yield gap to close further.