David Murphy is a PhD Candidate at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
In a May 2016 blog post, I described a plan for fieldwork in western Kenya that would investigate whether providing soil testing results together with individualized agricultural input recommendations would impact farmer behavior towards input usage. The motivation for this work stems from the recognition that small-scale farmers in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) are often risk-averse and this is recognized as one component causing underinvest in agricultural inputs given the low and variable yield responses to fertilizers and other inputs (Kebede et al., 1990). Past studies have shown that farmer perceptions of the health of their soils is primarily based on previous crop yields (Marenya et al., 2008; Berazneva et al., 2016), which may not be accurate or sufficient for optimal agricultural decision making. This is because nutrient deficiencies are difficult to differentiate solely based on crop yield information, which can impact the effectiveness of inputs. For example, inorganic fertilizers containing necessary nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorus may be ineffective at improving yields if organic matter in the soil is low (Marenya and Barrett 2009a,b) or the soil is acidic (Burke et al., 2017).
To test whether providing personalized soil test results and recommendations to farmers is a beneficial and cost effective agricultural development strategy in SSA, this project sampled soil from 550 small-scale farms in 18 villages in Western Kenya and brought the results to these households between July and November of 2016. Continue reading