MSU Agricultural Economics  Research > Food Security III > Policy Syntheses > No. 40

Effects of Cash Crop Production on Food Crop Productivity
in Zimbabwe: Synergies or Trade-offs?


Jones Govereh and T.S. Jayne

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Food Security II Cooperative Agreement between U.S. Agency for International Development, Global Bureau, Economic Growth Center, Office of Agriculture and Food Security and Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University

BACKGROUND: The experiments with African state-led models of input intensification on food crops (featuring subsidized state credit disbursement, input delivery, and purchase of output) generally have proven themselves to be financially unsustainable. But in many parts of Eastern and Southern Africa, the subsequent withdrawal of state-subsidized credit, input delivery and food crop price fixing has resulted in a decline of cash inputs on food crops. A sustained renewal of African agriculture growth will require some form of transformation out of the semi-subsistence, low-input, low-productivity farming systems that currently characterizes much of rural Africa.

High-valued cash crops represent one potential avenue of crop intensification. But the case for cash cropping has generally been based on the direct contribution that these crops have on farm incomes. A relatively neglected avenue of research concerns the effects that cash cropping can have on the productivity of other household activities, including food crop cultivation. This paper examines two potential pathways by which cash cropping may affect the productivity of other crops: (1) household-level synergies (which occur when the household's participation in a commercialized crop scheme enables it to acquire resources not otherwise available for use on other enterprises in the crop mix); and (2) regional spillover effects (which occur when a commercialization scheme may attract certain kinds of investments to a region which create spillover benefits to farmers engaged in other crops). Examples of these household-level and regional-level spillover effects include:

These potential synergies between cash crops and food crops have been generally neglected in food crop research and extension programs, although they may have important implications for programs designed to promote smallholder food crop productivity growth. More comprehensive information on the interactions between food and cash crop production may help in understanding the indirect payoffs to cash crop research programs and in refining extension strategies designed to promote food crop as well as cash crop productivity.

OBJECTIVES AND METHODS: This paper studies the dynamics between cash crop and food crop productivity in Gokwe North District in Zimbabwe, a major cotton producing area. The main research issues were: (1) to identify the determinants of commercialized crop production at the household level; and (2) to determine the effect of increasing crop commercialization on household food productivity.

The paper derives a household crop commercialization index, defined as the ratio of crop sales to total crop production. The bivariate statistics in Table 1 show sample household characteristics according to a cotton commercialization index, and indicate that the relationship between cash and food crop production is neither entirely competitive nor complementary.

We also develop econometric models for identifying the determinants of household-level commercialization and for measuring its effects on food crop productivity.

Results are based on cross-sectional household survey data collected in 1996, implemented under the project on Integrated Assessment of Trypanosomosis Control Strategies and their Impacts. This project is a joint collaboration between International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), University of Zimbabwe (UZ), Regional Tsetse and Trypanosomosis Control Program (RTTCP) and the Department of Veterinary Services Tsetse Control Branch of Zimbabwe.

FINDINGS: The principal findings of the paper are:

POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Overall, the findings show that farm dynamics between cash cropping, capital investment, and food crop productivity are important to consider in discussions of agricultural commercialization among smallholder farmers.

Most local and internationally-based agricultural research programs designed to promote food crop productivity growth in Africa are based on the allocation of scarce resources to primary food crops. To a large extent, agricultural and nutrition policies in Zimbabwe have historically formulated rural development strategies on this conventional wisdom and have implicitly or sometimes explicitly regarded diversification into non-food cash crops as detrimental to household food security objectives. While productivity growth of staple food crops is indeed essential to overall rural productivity growth given the large proportion of cropped area under food crops, the potential of higher-valued cash crops to promote food crop productivity has often been neglected.

The challenge for government policy is to identify and facilitate strategic pathways to create positive interactions between food and cash crops, and between the public and private sector. The various pathways by which crop commercialization can affect food security and incomes under conditions of pervasive market failures needs to be more clearly understood to develop more informed policies in support of smallholder welfare.

This study clearly suggests that, despite frequent criticisms stressing the trade-offs between agricultural commercialization and food crop production, it is important to also consider the potential synergies.

*Special support for this study was provided by the Food Security and Productivity Unit of the Productive Sectors Growth and Environment Division, Office of Sustainable Development, Africa Bureau, USAID (AFR/SD/PSGE/FSP). The research was conducted under the Food Security II Cooperative Agreement between AID/Global Bureau, Office of Agriculture and Food Security, and the Department of Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University. The views expressed in this document are excluusively those of the authors.

Govereh is visiting research scholar, and Jayne is a visiting associate professor at Michigan State University.

This paper is a summary of a report entitled Effects of Cash Crop Production on Food Crop Productivity: Synergies or Trade-offs? MSU International Development Working Paper No. 74. It can be obtained by writing to:

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