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Knowledge products

The articles and working documents published as part of the STAARS project cover a number of research themes, all of which relate to the agricultural and rural sectors in Africa, i.e.:

  • adoption and expansion of technologies in agricultural value chains
  • links between agriculture, food security, and health
  • risk management, access to capital, and the promotion of inclusive and sustainable growth
  • poverty trends and resilience to shocks
  • young people and women in agricultural and rural transformation
  • links between rural and urban areas and non-agricultural employment.

Focus on STAARS publications

The Unintended Consequences of Agricultural Input Intensification: Human Health Implications of Agro-chemical Use in Sub-Saharan Africa,

Megan Sheahan, Christopher B. Barrett, and Casey Goldvale (2016)

Context – Although the use of agro-chemicals makes it possible to increase yields and agricultural revenue, the potential negative consequences on human health are often – wrongly – neglected.  This warning is issued by Shehan et al., who explore the links between the use of agro-chemicals on fields, the value of agricultural production, and a series of costs and indicators on health in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Lessons from the study:

  • Plots on which pesticides are used have seen the value of their harvests increase on average from 32 to 85 USD (i.e. nearly 33%), depending on the country.
  • Households that use pesticides are 4 to 9% more likely to take time off work for medical reasons than those who have not applied pesticides.
  • Extension efforts to inform farmers of the potential negative health impacts of using agro-chemicals may help to bring about better practices: farmers who are better informed, especially regarding the ideal conditions for using such products, use them better.

Occupational Choice and Agricultural Labor Exits in Sub-Saharan Africa,

Ellen B. McCullough (2016)

Context – We still do not properly understand the microeconomic processes that govern relations between growth in agricultural productivity, non-agricultural growth, agricultural labor exits, economic growth in general, and poverty reduction in Africa.  The microeconomic aspects of agricultural transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa are analysed by McCullough in the context of occupational choice and technological changes in Tanzania.

Lessons learned:

  • Participation in self-employment increases by an average of 1.5 percentage points when self-employment income doubles; and falls by less than half a percentage point when wage labor productivity doubles.
  • In the case of improved market access (work, credit, insurance, land, etc.), households grappling with productivity shocks to self-employment are more likely to exit wage  and vice versa, probably due to lower rates of under-employment or greater returns to specialization.
  • The study results highlight the importance of investing in improving the productivity of small farmers, especially along the intensive margins of agricultural participation and in areas with low population density and poor market access.

Selling crops early to pay for school: A large-scale natural experiment in Malawi,

Brian Dillon (2016)

Context – Liquidity-constrained households are often forced to sell their agricultural products early to cover expenses that arise before food prices reach their peak during the off-season.  This sometimes leads to a substantial loss of income for small farmers.  To study the impacts of a large-scale and exogenous change in the timing of expenditures on the timing of household crop sales, Dillon applies natural experiment methods to data collected in Malawi, where in 2010 the government decided to move the start of the school year from December to September.

Lessons of the study:

  • By financing the costs of education through crop sales, households pay a penalty of 2.50 to 8.50 USD per child, i.e. nearly half the average cost of education of sending a child to primary school in Malawi.
  • The study's conclusions suggest that when households are very close to the edge of their financial capabilities, seemingly innocuous policy changes can have unintended negative consequences.
  • In this case, access to affordable credit can allow households to finance their education expenses at lower rates than those offered by crop markets.  Alternatively, the improved development of grain markets to cushion the severity of intra-annual price cycles would reduce the penalty incurred by selling products early. 

Long term consequences of consumption seasonality,

Paul Christian and Brian Dillon (2016)

Context – Consumption seasonality in Sub-Saharan Africa throughout the year raises a question that this study attempts to answer: does increased consumption during harvest periods and lower consumption in lean seasons have long-term negative effects?  This question concerns nutrition and child development in the long term.  The study analyses longitudinal data regarding the population in Tanzania over 20 years.  It compares children whose families, despite having the same average expenses in terms of consumption throughout the year, have different spending patterns in the harvest and lean seasons.

Lessons of the study:

  • A child in a household which increases its daily mean food expenditures by 10% may gain 0.2 to 0.3 cm in height and 0.08 to 0.3 years of additional education.  In comparison, a household with a 10% increase in the standard deviation or variability of its food expenditures may see a reduction of 0.04 to 0.09 cm in the child's height and of 0.04 to 0.09% of years of education.
  • The conclusions of this study suggest that intervention to support consumption during the lean seasons could be more effective than efforts that offer fixed benefits throughout the year.  For example, a policy that encourages a household to defer 65% of its purchase of maize from the peak season to the lean season would increase a child's height by 30 to 50% and the level of education by 25 to 30%, as well as effectively fighting poverty.

Credit constraints and farm productivity: Micro-level evidence from smallholder farmers in Ethiopia,

Adamon N. Mukasa, Anthony M. Simpasa, and Adeleke O. Salami (2017)

Context  – In most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, farming is small-scale, highly dependent on rainfed agriculture, and therefore extremely vulnerable to climate change.  When farmers need to finance their production activities (purchasing modern inputs, agricultural mechanization, or expanding the size of the farm), they often lack the financial resources, and credit (formal and/or informal) appears to be the only solution.  Limited or no access to credit may hamper agricultural activities.  Mukasa et al. (2017) examined the nature, scale, and effects of credit constraints in African agriculture using a panel of 5,308 small-scale farmers in Ethiopia.

Lessons of the study:

  • Two-thirds of the farmers interviewed have limited access to credit, mostly (71.9%) due to risk factors (fear of being rejected, incapacity to repay loans, or loss of collateral), and dissuasive transaction costs (14.33%).
  • Empirical analyses suggest that reducing credit constraints would generate substantial productivity gains in productivity in Ethiopia of approximately 60%.  Specifically, reducing price, risk and transaction cost constraints would have the greatest effects, with a 59.7%, 39.8%, and 27.7% rise in productivity, respectively.
  • The results ultimately show that providing farmers with adequate knowledge of the available financial services (such as information on loan requests, guarantee conditions, and reimbursement conditions), as well as addressing insurance market failures, may be key in improving the agricultural productivity and wellbeing of farmers.

Full list of STAARS publications

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