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Understanding Fertilizer Effectiveness And Adoption On Maize In Zambia


  • Burke, William J.
  • Frossard, Emanuel
  • Kabwe, Stephen
  • Jayne, Thomas S.


As populations continue to rise and land becomes scarcer in Africa’s rural areas, there is increasing urgency for farmers to adopt land management practices that sustainably raise land and labor productivity. Considerable effort has focused on promoting inorganic fertilizers, but it is increasingly recognized that smallholder farmers’ demand for fertilizer can be depressed by soil conditions that reduce crop response to and the profitability of fertilizer use. This article quantifies the impacts of soil characteristics on maize response to fertilizer in Zambia using a nationally representative sample of 1,453 fields. In addition to economic and farm management surveys, composite soil samples were collected and analyzed for several characteristics at the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute. Soil’s role in agricultural production and fertilizer efficiency is more nuanced than most economic literature has acknowledged. We believe ours is the first model in economic literature that simultaneously allows for the effects of multiple soil characteristics. We estimate critical threshold effects on yield response to fertilizer to be between pH levels of 5.4 and 5.6, soil organic matter levels of 1.2-1.4%, and find significant soil texture―and cation exchange―related thresholds. Depending on these soil characteristics, average maize yield response estimates range from insignificant (0) to 5.7 maize kg per fertilizer kg. We estimate fertilizer use on maize is not profitable at commercial prices for the majority of Zambian farmers (under current practices). Even ignoring transfer costs, about 80% of fertilized maize fields still have an estimated average value-cost-ratio for fertilizer less than one at commercial prices. To the best of our knowledge, the flexibility of our model and data with this scope of geography and content are novel contributions to the literature.

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  • Burke, William J. & Frossard, Emanuel & Kabwe, Stephen & Jayne, Thomas S., 2016. "Understanding Fertilizer Effectiveness And Adoption On Maize In Zambia," Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research Papers 259510, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security (FSP).
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:miffrp:259510
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.259510

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jayne, T. S. & Yamano, Takashi & Weber, Michael T. & Tschirley, David & Benfica, Rui & Chapoto, Antony & Zulu, Ballard, 2003. "Smallholder income and land distribution in Africa: implications for poverty reduction strategies," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 253-275, June.
    2. Balke, Nathan S & Fomby, Thomas B, 1997. "Threshold Cointegration," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 38(3), pages 627-645, August.
    3. Hansen, Bruce E, 1996. "Inference When a Nuisance Parameter Is Not Identified under the Null Hypothesis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(2), pages 413-430, March.
    4. Paswel P. Marenya & Christopher B. Barrett, 2009. "State-conditional Fertilizer Yield Response on Western Kenyan Farms," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 91(4), pages 991-1006.
    5. Paarlberg, Robert, 2013. "Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199322381.
    6. Paswel P. Marenya & Christopher B. Barrett, 2009. "Soil quality and fertilizer use rates among smallholder farmers in western Kenya," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 40(5), pages 561-572, September.
    7. Snapp, Sieg & Jayne, Thomas S. & Mhango, Wezi & Benson, Todd & Ricker-Gilbert, Jacob, 2014. "Maize yield response to nitrogen in Malawi’s smallholder production systems:," MaSSP working papers 9, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    8. Kelly, Valerie A., 2005. "Farmers' Demand for Fertilizer in Sub-Saharan Africa," Staff Paper Series 11612, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.
    9. Marenya, Paswel Phiri & Barrett, Christopher B., 2009. "The effect of soil quality on fertilizer use rates among smallholder farmers in western Kenya," 2009 Conference, August 16-22, 2009, Beijing, China 51671, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    10. T.S. Jayne & Shahidur Rashid, 2013. "Input subsidy programs in sub-Saharan Africa: a synthesis of recent evidence," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 44(6), pages 547-562, November.
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    1. repec:eee:jfpoli:v:75:y:2018:i:c:p:1-14 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:spr:agrhuv:v:35:y:2018:i:4:d:10.1007_s10460-018-9872-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Resnick, Danielle & Mason, Nicole M., 2016. "What drives input subsidy policy reform? The case of Zambia, 2002–2016," IFPRI discussion papers 1572, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    4. repec:eee:ecolec:v:152:y:2018:i:c:p:172-182 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:eee:wdevel:v:122:y:2019:i:c:p:54-69 is not listed on IDEAS

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    Agricultural and Food Policy; Food Security and Poverty; International Development;

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