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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Yield and labor relations of sustainable intensification options for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. A meta-analysis

Dahlin, A. Sigrun; Rusinamhodzi, Leonard


Sustainable intensification of agricultural production is needed to ensure increased productivity relative to inputs. Short-term yield returns and labor input are major determinants of the fate of sustainable intensification options on smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa because labor shortage is often acute, and most farmers lack access to labor-saving technologies. We assessed the relationship between maize grain yield change and labor input from a total of 28 published papers (631 data pairs) including subsets of data pairs within specific sustainable intensification practices. Among the reviewed technologies, manually dug planting basins showed ratios between the change in yield and change in labor inputs (Y/L) below 1, suggesting that labor demand increased more than yield. In contrast, ridging showed average Y/L values 2. No-till showed high Y/L (average1.7) when combined with herbicides but average Y/L 1 (total labor) when manually weeded. Manually weeded rotations showed average Y/L 1 and manually weeded intercropping systems average Y/L around 1. The relations revealed four scenarios: high yield returns but low labor demand, high yield returns and labor demand, low yield returns and labor demand, and low yield returns but high labor demand. High yield with high labor demand requires mostly investments in machinery and/or herbicides to reduce labor input. Low yield with low labor demand requires improved crop management, whereas low yield with high labor demand requires a combination of improved crop management and investments to reduce labor. This is the first comprehensive assessment showing that the sustainable intensification options being considered for smallholder farmers may increase crop yield but also labor demand. Options that include mechanization and herbicides at low cost are likely to be adopted due to their reduction effect on drudgery and total labor input.


Maize productivity; Labor input; Rain-fed conditions; Smallholder farmers; Soil fertility; Weed management

Published in

Agronomy for Sustainable Development
2019, volume: 39, number: 3, article number: 32

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment
Rusinamhodzi, Leonard
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

Associated SLU-program

SLU Network Plant Protection

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG2 Zero hunger
SDG12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)