To Increase Income and Competiveness, Public Policy Should Educate African Maize Farmers About the Benefits of Using Herbicides

Weedy Maize Field: Africa

Weedy Maize Field: Africa

Maize consumption is a major source of calories for millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Within the next few decades, the majority of people in Sub-Saharan Africa will be living in cities. Countries in eastern and southern Africa are increasing imports of staple foods, including maize. In order to be competitive, African farmers need to reduce the cost of producing a unit of maize. Herbicide adoption would greatly reduce costs of growing maize and lead to greater yields and farmer income and competiveness.

“Rural smallholder production remains highly labor-intensive. On average, family labor accounts for 62% of the total cost of maize production in Zambia’s small- and medium-scale farm sector. Promoting the identification and adoption of practices and technologies that save labor and/or identifying labor-productivity-enhancing technologies through research and development will therefore help to make Zambian maize more competitive and allow farmers to maintain profitability even at lower producer prices.

Although only 3% of fields had herbicides applied, regression results suggest the benefits of its use are quite high. All else equal, applying herbicides increases gross margin between ZMK 363,700 to ZMK 376,300 per hectare planted… The magnitude of this effect is fairly large compared to the national average margin of ZMK 1,108,542 (in other words, at the mean, herbicide use would increase gross margins by roughly a third). …these results indicate that public policy measure should be considered to educate farmers about the benefits of herbicide application, as its contribution to smallholder income growth and regional competitiveness may be comparable to and highly synergistic with increased fertilizer use.”

Authors: Burke, W. J., et al.
Affiliation: Zambia Food Security Research Project (FSRP)
Title: The cost of maize production by smallholder farmers in Zambia
Source: Food Security Research Project. Working Paper 50. March 2011. Available at: http://www.aec.msu.edu/agecon/fs2/zambia/index.htm 

Herbicide Use on Cotton Farms Could Greatly Increase Income of Farm Families in Africa

African Cotton Herbicide Experiment

African Cotton Herbicide Experiment

The income of family farms growing cotton in Africa is low largely due to the small size of farms- about one hectare. A major reason that farm size is small is because fields are weeded by hand and there usually is not enough family labor to weed more than one hectare. With use of herbicides, the need for labor is reduced dramatically and individual cotton farms would be able to significantly increase their acreage and incomes.

“Under rainfed agricultural production, common throughout most of Africa, labor bottlenecks at planting and weeding times often critically constrain farm output. During the four to six week period following the first rains, farmers must prepare their soil, plant and conduct the critical first weeding.

Under these circumstances, early season labor constraints, particularly during the first weeding, set an upper bound on the cropped area a family can manage using only household labor. For the average farm household in central Zambia, with five family members, peak-season labor bottlenecks limit the area they can cultivate under conventional hand hoe tillage to about 1 hectare.

In Zambia, herbicide application, instead of weeding with a hand hoe, cuts peak season labor requirements in half.

When combined with dry season land preparation, this reduction in peak season labor requirements enables farm households to crop 2.7 hectares of land under hand hoe cultivation using only household labor. As a result, hand hoe farmers can increase their income from these three crops to 2.9 million Kwacha ($620) per year, triple what they can earn under conventional hand hoe agriculture…

This suggests that cotton company inclusion and financing of one round of herbicides in their cotton packs could potentially raise cotton production and household income considerably.”

Authors: Steven Haggblade and Christina Plerhoples
Affiliations: Department of Agricultural Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University
Title: Productivity impact of conservation farming on smallholder cotton farmers in Zambia
Source: Food Security Research Project. Working Paper 47. July 2010. Available at: http://www.aec.msu.edu/agecon/fs2/zambia/index.htm