Introduction

Modern agricultural technologies have enormous potential to drive poverty reduction and economic growth, but adoption remains low in many countries. New models of information sharing could help resolve this.

With over half of working adults in sub-Saharan Africa employed in agriculture, improving agricultural productivity is an important way to raise living standards. This brief focuses on mechanisms to encourage the adoption of better farming technologies – broadly defined to include improved agricultural practices, inputs, crop varieties, and other products like crop insurance or innovative lending products – to increase agricultural productivity and improve livelihoods.

Agricultural productivity is a key driver of rural employment, industrialisation, and growth. Despite its potential to dramatically increase yields, however, the adoption of agricultural technologies in Africa remains very low. In the 1960s and 70s, the Green Revolution brought improved technologies and productivity gains to farmers in many developing countries but largely bypassed sub-Saharan Africa.

Further, while numerous studies and field trials have demonstrated large potential productivity gains from agricultural technologies such as hybrid seeds and fertiliser, their usage remains strikingly low in Africa. The rates of fertiliser use in sub-Saharan Africa are one-eighth the worldwide average, with Africa accounting for only 3% of global fertiliser consumption in 2013 (FAO, 2015). Despite recent progress in some areas, rates of agricultural productivity in many African countries have fallen or remained stagnant in recent years.

This brief explores the question: what can be done to encourage farmers to adopt profitable agricultural technologies? Our focus is on the role of knowledge and information in supporting technology uptake. We extract findings from the latest research and propose some strategies to overcome technology adoption constraints.

Key messages

  1. Information barriers can prevent the uptake of agricultural technologies.
    Farmers need to be aware of a technology’s existence, its benefits, and how to use it effectively – and they may need to overcome behavioural barriers that can create resistance.
  2. The risk of poor quality agricultural inputs poses a major barrier to technology adoption as input quality is often hard for farmers to detect.
    A lack of information on input quality is particularly problematic when low quality inputs are prevalent on the market. It is important for policy to address supply-side barriers like poor input quality alongside demand- side challenges.
  3. Information and communication technologies can play a key role in supporting knowledge sharing.
    Innovative applications of technologies, such as mobile agricultural information platforms to improve agricultural supply chains and extension services, have the potential to increase the cost-effectiveness and impact of information for farmers.