Promoting the adoption of new rice varieties: Addressing the costs of early adoption

Over the past decades, agricultural productivity has stagnated in much of sub-Saharan Africa while many other regions have seen dramatic productivity improvements. As a result, many African countries do not produce enough staple food to meet their growing consumption needs. Sierra Leone, a net exporter of rice in the 1960s, must now import a third of its total consumption at a high cost. Low rice production is a threat to food security for vulnerable groups, particularly the rural poor who grow rice as their primary staple diet.

New agricultural technologies such as high-yield crop varieties offer the promise of significant increases in productivity and hence the welfare of farmers. One example of such technologies are the New Rice of Africa (NERICA) varieties which combine the genetic qualities of Asian rice (high yielding) and African rice (high resistance to drought and disease). NERICA varieties also have a short duration to maturity (three months), allowing farmers to harvest at the peak of the lean season.

However, adoption of these technologies has often been disappointing in countries where dissemination programs have been conducted. Current estimates suggest only 2% percent of farmers in Sierra Leone use NERICAs. In addition, evidence on the long-term benefits of NERICAs remains limited. One possible downside of NERICAs is that the seed needs to be dried carefully before planting, which is not a standard practice.

The first half of this research program showed improvements in yields for farmers from NERICA, but only when farmers were intensively trained on the use and practices relevant for NERICA. In fact, farmers who were not trained were more likely to suffer partial or complete crop failures.

The proposed study will examine the nutrition benefits of NERICA by following farmers who were offered NERICA and trained on its use. NERICA has two benefits for these farmers: (i) it is higher yielding so there is more food available to the household, and (ii) it arrives early, i.e. during the peak of the hungry season so it allows farmers to smooth their food consumption over the seasons better. Both these could have large nutrition gains for children (and adults) in the household. This project will collect consumption and anthropometrics data to study these effects.