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The Sahel's Silent Maize Revolution: Analyzing Maize Productivity in Mali at the Farm-level


  • Jeremy D. Foltz
  • Ursula T. Aldana
  • Paul Laris


Since independence a quiet revolution has taken place in maize production in the Sahel with Mali increasing production more than ten-fold and yields going up ~2% a year. This research work uses farm level panel data from southern Mali's maize growing regions to demonstrate this success in agricultural production and technological change. We analyze the determinants of production to unpack increases in input use from technological change. The estimations show that farmer adoption of increased fertilizer use has driven much of the productivity growth rather than the adoption of improvements in seeds and management. Additionally, we find strong evidence of observed and unobserved heterogeneity, which affects both the choice of fertilizer amounts and the marginal returns to fertilizer use. The results demonstrate the key changes behind this silent maize revolution and point to the importance of taking into account farmer heterogeneity in estimating productivity and returns to fertilizer.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeremy D. Foltz & Ursula T. Aldana & Paul Laris, 2012. "The Sahel's Silent Maize Revolution: Analyzing Maize Productivity in Mali at the Farm-level," NBER Working Papers 17801, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17801
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Esther Duflo & Michael Kremer & Jonathan Robinson, 2008. "How High Are Rates of Return to Fertilizer? Evidence from Field Experiments in Kenya," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 482-488, May.
    2. Tavneet Suri, 2011. "Selection and Comparative Advantage in Technology Adoption," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(1), pages 159-209, January.
    3. Zhiying Xu & Zhengfei Guan & T.S. Jayne & Roy Black, 2009. "Factors influencing the profitability of fertilizer use on maize in Zambia," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 40(4), pages 437-446, July.
    4. Smale, Melinda & Byerlee, Derek & Jayne, Thom, 2011. "Maize revolutions in Sub-Saharan Africa," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5659, The World Bank.
    5. Foster, Andrew D & Rosenzweig, Mark R, 1995. "Learning by Doing and Learning from Others: Human Capital and Technical Change in Agriculture," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(6), pages 1176-1209, December.
    6. Benjamin, Dwayne, 1995. "Can unobserved land quality explain the inverse productivity relationship?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 51-84, February.
    7. Gabre-Madhin, Eleni Z. & Haggblade, Steven, 2003. "Successes in African agriculture," MSSD discussion papers 53, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    8. Ursula Aldana & Jeremy D. Foltz & Bradford L. Barham & Pilar Useche, 2010. "Sequential Adoption of Package Technologies: The Dynamics of Stacked Trait Corn Adoption," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 93(1), pages 130-143.
    9. Steven Block, 2014. "The Decline and Rise of Agricultural Productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa since 1961," NBER Chapters,in: African Successes, Volume IV: Sustainable Growth, pages 13-67 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. 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.
    11. Arega D. Alene & Abebe Menkir & S. O. Ajala & B. Badu-Apraku & A. S. Olanrewaju & V. M. Manyong & Abdou Ndiaye, 2009. "The economic and poverty impacts of maize research in West and Central Africa," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 40(5), pages 535-550, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Laris, Paul & Foltz, Jeremy D. & Voorhees, Briton, 2015. "Taking from cotton to grow maize: The shifting practices of small-holder farmers in the cotton belt of Mali," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 1-13.
    2. Smale, Melinda & Kergna, Alpha O. & Theriault, Veronique & Assima, Amidou & Keita, Naman, 2016. "Gender, generation and cereal crop intensification in Mali," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 235544, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • Q12 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Micro Analysis of Farm Firms, Farm Households, and Farm Input Markets
    • Q16 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - R&D; Agricultural Technology; Biofuels; Agricultural Extension Services

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