How Common Crop Yield Measures Misrepresent Productivity among Smallholder Farmers

Common estimates of agricultural productivity rely upon crude measures of crop yield, typically defined as the weight of a crop harvested divided by the area harvested. But this common yield measure poorly reflects performance among farm systems combining multiple crops in one area (e.g., intercropping), and also ignores the possibility that farmers might lose crop area between planting and harvest (e.g., partial crop failure). Drawing on detailed plot-level data from Tanzania’s National Panel Survey, this paper contrasts measures of smallholder productivity using production per hectare harvested and production per hectare planted. Yield by area planted differs significantly from yield by area harvested, particularly for smaller farms and female-headed households. OLS regression further reveals different demographic and management-related drivers of variability in yield gains – and thus different implications for policy and development interventions – depending on the yield measurement used. Findings suggest a need to better specify “yield” to more effectively guide agricultural development efforts.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-22

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