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Economic evaluation of LEISA

Written by Nico Heerink , Ruerd Ruben

In the last ILEIA Newsletter (vol 11 no 4, page 30) a reaction by Mr. Widanapathirana was published on Economic evaluation of LEISA farming by Ruerd Ruben and Nico Heerink, published earlier (vol 11 no 2, pp 18-19). Here s a reaction of Ruerd Ruben on Mr. Widanapathirana s comments.

ILEIA Newsletter • 12 nº 1 • April 1996

Economic evaluation of LEISA

In the last ILEIA Newsletter (vol 11 no 4, page 30) a reaction by Mr. Widanapathirana was published on "Economic evaluation of LEISA farming" by Ruerd Ruben and Nico Heerink, published earlier (vol 11 no 2, pp 18-19). Here’s a reaction of Ruerd Ruben on Mr. Widanapathirana’s comments.

The reaction of Mr. Widanapathirana from Sri Lanka is certainly accurate where he states that production function analysis should be conducted at the farm level, taking into account the mixture of cropping and livestock activities, as well as off-farm activities. While the article focused on field level comparison to make the argument clear, operational techniques for the estimation of socalled whole-farm production functions are readily available.

Moreover, the comment states that LEIA/HEIA comparisons should be based on data of farm performance over several years, taking into account the cumulative effects on soil organic matter. This is in principle correct, but then we may expect that farmers with a longer tradition in LEIA are represented within the sample and may reach higher or more stable yield levels. These effects can thus be easily recognized within the production function analysis.

Another alternative consists in the quantification of outputs in terms of yields and sub-products (crop residues), and including changes in the soil nutrients and carbon ballances as a joint product. The net farm income can be corrected for the monetary value of these losses.

The comment recognizes the lower land and labour productivity in LEISA systems compared to HEIA systems, but states that this should be corrected for external effects. This statement is really incorrect as long as farmers decisions are based on current market prices, while not all HEIA systems necessarily cause externality problems.

Moreover, farmers evaluation of technologies are not based on how prices should be, but on how prices are in reality at farm-gate level. The frequently heard reference to "externalities" is more of an ethical nature and is not based on sound economic reasoning, as both farmers and government are not prepared to incorporate them in the pricing procedures.

"Borren" the noxious weed
Borren is a high altitude broad-leaved annual weed found in Ethiopia. It has a branched vegetative growth and bears an attractive yellow flower. The name Borren (in Amhario language) is given to this weed by the local farmers. It is found in 19 peasant communities of the high altitude districts of Debark, Dabat and Wogera. It infests field crops such as barley, wheat, faba bean and flax.

Borren is an exotic weed. There is not a clear understanding as to how, when and from where this weed has been introduced to our zone. Probably, it has been introduced through emergency seeds. Only recently, researchers have started to pay attention to Borren, but its scientific name, biology and appropriate control measures have not yet been identified. The plant has two flowering patterns. It flowers early August in undisturbed microclimates and late in September and October on crop fields. It also has a capacity to re-sprout immediately when the above ground part is removed by hand pulling or mowing. Farmers also believe it has a good quality for domestic animals. On the other hand, this weed can produce uncountable seeds.

As you see me in the picture, I took a single Borren plant from a barley field at an altitude of 2900 masl. In my simple observations, I counted a total of 189 branches with each a single flower head. I also counted seeds from four flower heads randomly taken. On average, each of them produces 375 seeds which leads to a total of about 70,875 seeds from a single weed plant.

Each year, new crop lands are infested at a faster rate with Borren weed, because of its .capacity to produce numerous seeds at the time where most field crops reach maturity or harvesting time and late weeding becomes more difficult. Appropriate control methods are lacking. Even though farmers have weeded their infested field by hand pulling and mowing, Borren reduces crop yield significantly when compared to other high altitude weeds. Therefore, in our zone, Borren is becoming the most noxious and troublesome weed to farmers next to Striga. This calls for collaborated work of agriculturists, weed specialists and researchers to identify and design appropriate control measures.

Seyoum Mulugeta, PO Box 180, Gondar, Ethiopia.

Finally, the comment suggests that real incentives are lacking for LEIA farming, while government policies exclusively focus on HEIA. This is certainly true for the entrepreneurial sector that wants to sell its products. But in a broad number of developing countries, during the last decade governmental price policies experienced strong adjustments, trying to correct the anti-rural bias and control for budget erosion and foreign exchange deficits related to the import of chemical inputs.

Factor prices are now approaching the scarcity level, and farmers feel obliged to make a selective use of external inputs. It is though interesting to see that not all resource poor farmers refrain from the use of fertilizer and insectices, but that applications become more selective. This should be the real subject of comparative research among LEIA and HEIA farmers, where the technique of production function analyses proves to be far more promising than partial cost-benefit analysis.

Ruerd Ruben, Dept of Development Economics, Wageningen Agricultural University, PO Box 8130, 6700 EW Wageningen, Netherlands. Fax: + 31 317 484037

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