By David J. Spielman
Senior Research Fellow
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
28 May 2015
Many recent sustainable intensification initiatives for developing-country agriculture are promoting a range of complex, systems-based agronomic innovations designed to assist smallholders to simultaneously improve yields, reduce production costs, and conserve natural resources. Some of these include zero-tillage cultivation, integrated pest and soil fertility management, and systems of crop intensification, among others. Many efforts to promote these initiatives have gone to scale in recent years, relying only on limited agronomic data collected from experiment stations and farmer-managed trials. Only a few are being scaled-up based on evidence from experimental data collected under farmers’ conditions, which measure outcomes such as farm profitability or household welfare, or the heterogeneity in these outcomes across different types of individuals, households, and communities. Even fewer have been scaled-up with a sense of the efficacy of alternative extension approaches in promoting learning and adoption among targeted smallholders.
This presentation explores these issues across three specific dimensions. First, it characterizes the complex nature of these innovations, their tradeoffs, and limitations in terms of improving prospects for sustainable intensification, climate change adaptation, and welfare improvement. Second, it examines how these innovations challenge traditional extension systems, social learning dynamics, and other mechanisms through which farmers learn, experiment, and adopt. Third, it discusses challenges posed by weak counterfactuals and sample selection bias in the evaluation of farm- and household-level impacts. The presentation will, in turn, encourage participants to consider ways to strengthen the evidence based on new agronomy for global rice science—where “new” agronomy works, for whom, and under what circumstances.