Intensification benefit index: How much can rural households benefit from agricultural intensification?
Sustainable intensification (SI) of agriculture is the predominant objective for agricultural research and extension worldwide. Researchers and policymakers consider SI to be essential to avoid global hunger, improve human nutrition and reduce rural poverty while avoiding all manner of environmental disasters. To achieve these global public goods requires a large number of rural households – ‘small farmers’ – in less developed countries to improve their agriculture. Household size and farm size from 11,789 households in 15 countries from sub-Saharan Africa were used to calculate an intensification benefit index (IBI) that reflects how much a household will benefit if intensification occurs. IBI is defined as the increase in personal daily income (cents/person/day) as returns to land (dollars/hectare/year) increase. Actual net farm income from 160 rural households in each of three countries was compared with their IBI values to explore the gap between potential intensification and current smallholder farm performance. Fifty percent of all households had IBI values less than 0.075 cents/dollar, 70% less than 0.125 cents/dollar and 90% less than 0.225 cents/dollar. Returns of $1000/ha/year would result in fewer than 15% of households crossing a $2/person/day poverty line; $2500/ha/year would be required to lift 50% of the sample above the line; and even with $4000/ha/year, more than 30% of households would remain below the line. Since mean net returns from three sub-sampled sites were only $78, $83 and $424/ha/year the gap between potential- and actual performance is large but, theoretically, amenable to closure through adoption of improved technologies. However, surveys have shown that the available technologies would struggle to bridge the gap completely for rural households with small farms. For many small farms, the gains from adopting improved technologies are unlikely by themselves to lift them out of poverty and so might not be as attractive as scientists would wish.