To diversify or not to diversify, that is the question. Pursuing agricultural development for smallholder farmers in marginal areas of Ghana
- World Development
- Many smallholder farmers in developing countries grow multiple crop species on their farms, maintaining de facto crop diversity. Rarely do agricultural development strategies consider this crop diversity as an entry point for fostering agricultural innovation. This paper presents a case study, from an agricultural research-for-development project in northern Ghana, which examines the relationship between crop diversity and self-consumption of food crops, and cash income from crops sold by smallholder farmers in the target areas. By testing the presence and direction of these relationships, it is possible to assess whether smallholder farmers may benefit more from a diversification or a specialization agricultural development strategy for improving their livelihoods. Based on a household survey of 637 randomly selected households, we calculated crop diversity as well as its contribution to self-consumption (measured as imputed monetary value) and to cash income for each household. With these data we estimated a system of three simultaneous equations. Results show that households maintained high levels of crop diversity: up to eight crops grown, with an-average of 3.2 per household, and with less than 5% having a null or very low level of crop diversity. The value of crop species used for self-consumption was on average 55% higher than that of crop sales. Regression results show that crop diversity is positively associated with self-consumption of food crops, and cash income from crops sold. This finding suggests that increasing crop diversity opens market opportunities for households, while still contributing to self-consumption. Given these findings, crop diversification seems to be more beneficial to these farmers than specialization. For these diversified farmers, or others in similar contexts, interventions that assess and build on their de facto crop diversity are probably more likely to be successful.