Essays on Smallholder Behavior in Response to Resource Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation consists of three chapters that address two major resource challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa: (i) weather shocks and (ii) limited land access for agricultural production. The first chapter looks at how weather shocks affect millet production and millet market price seasonality in Niger. In this paper, we use district-level longitudinal production and price data, along with high-resolution rainfall data to investigate the distinct impacts of positive and negative rainfall shocks on millet production and millet price seasonality in Niger. We find that a one standard deviation decrease in seasonal rainfall from historical averages is associated with declines in millet market price initially after harvest, but strong upward pressure on market prices 6 months after harvest. As a result, drought exacerbates existing price seasonality, which in turn can amplify negative impacts on households. Social protection programs need to account for potential increases in seasonal price variability in the design of programs to enhance household resilience to weather shocks.

To better understand the household behavior that gives rise to the price responses observed in the first chapter, we explore weather shock impacts on household millet market participation in Niger in the second chapter. We merge a nationally representative household panel data with high-resolution spatially disaggregated rainfall data. We find that households are more likely to participate in the market as net sellers with negative rainfall shocks, but marketed quantity for net sellers decreases with negative rainfall shocks. Diversification into non-agricultural activities can mediate the impacts of negative rainfall shocks on market participation and lead to increases in volume of sales. Policies that support household involvement in the rural nonfarm economy through training and access to credit to help expand businesses may also stimulate millet market participation.

In the third chapter, we use a rich dataset of 1,123 households to examine the determinants of individual household member access to groundnut fields, the predominant cash-crop in the Groundnut Basin of Senegal. The analysis also explores the implications of limited land access on groundnut productivity of young adult and female field managers. We find that young adults and females have fewer opportunities to access land compared to older and male household members. Further, we show that higher productivity may not be driving differential access to fields among older adults. Results suggest that with equal access, young adults may be as or more productive groundnut cultivators than older adults. Programs to increase young adult and female economic opportunities should focus on closing gaps in access to resources for production rather than decreasing observed production disparities.



Weather Shocks, Price seasonality, Market Participation, Millet, Smallholder, Niger, Land Access, Field Productivity, Triple-Hurdle Model, Senegal