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Understanding fertilizer adoption and effectiveness on maize in Zambia

Burke, William J., Frossard, Emmanuel, Kabwe, Stephen, Jayne, Thom S.
Food policy 2019 v.86 pp. 101721
corn, crop yield, farm management, farmers, farms, fertilizer application, fertilizers, soil analysis, soil properties, uncertainty, Zambia
Increased fertilizer use will likely be crucial for raising and sustaining farm productivity in Africa, but adoption may be limited by ineffectiveness under certain conditions. This article quantifies the impacts of soil characteristics on maize response to fertilizer in Zambia using a nationally representative sample of 1453 fields, combining economic, farm management and soil analysis data. Depending on soil regimes, average maize yield response estimates range from insignificant (0) to 7 maize kg per fertilizer kg. For the majority of farmers, the estimated average value cost ratio is between 1 and 2, meaning fertilizer use would be fiscally rational, barring uncertainty and transfer costs. Since transfer costs exist and outcomes are uncertain, however, many farmers may sensibly pause before deciding whether to adopt fertilizer. This suggests shifting the emphasis of chronically low fertilizer use in Africa away from explanations of “market failure” toward greater emphasis onimproving fertilizer efficacy.