Assessing the Impact of Cowpea and Sorghum Research and Extension in Northern Cameroon

June 4, 1994 - Author: James A.Sterns and Richard H. Bernsten

IDWP 43. James A.Sterns and Richard H. Bernsten. 1994. 48 pp. Assessing the Impact of Cowpea and Sorghum Research and Extension in Northern Cameroon 

Throughout Africa, per capita food production has been declining since the early 1960s.
Cameroon has sought to counter this trend by increasing agricultural productivity through
research and extension. In order to establish future investment priorities, policy makers need to
know if past agricultural research investments have earned sufficient returns to justify continued
funding. Further, national experiences need to be compared to see if returns varied across
programs, and in cases where they did, explanations need to be sought to discover why these
variations exist.

To address these issues, data were collected in Cameroon and analyzed in order to estimate the
benefits and costs of investments in sorghum and cowpea research and extension in northern
Cameroon. Specific data that were needed to construct benefit and cost streams included the
following: yields of traditional and introduced technologies, area harvested, adoption rates of
technological innovations, prices of both inputs and outputs, climatic factors influencing both the
research agenda and the returns to this research, and the costs of research and extension efforts.
Focussing on the period 1979-87, the analysis addressed three questions: What were the returns
to past investments? What factors explained the estimated returns and any variability in returns
between the sorghum and cowpea programs? And how did institutions influence these returns
and the distribution of their benefits?

Estimated internal rates of returns (RORs) were 15% for cowpea research and extension, and 1%
for sorghum research and extension. Note, the ROR is a measure of "profitability" of an
investment. An ROR of zero indicates a return sufficient to cover the initial investment, but no
more. The ROR must be equal to or greater than the target rate of return (the opportunity cost of
capital) in order for the investment to be considered "profitable." In the case of northern
Cameroon, an opportunity cost of capital of 10% was assumed, indicating that only cowpea
research and extension was "profitable" in economic terms, but that both the sorghum and
cowpea research and extension programs were "successful" since they were "able to pay for
themselves" in financial terms. Further, extensive sensitivity analyses tested the robustness of
these estimated RORs, indicating that the results were relatively stable across a wide range of
assumptions about the data used in the benefit and cost streams.

Certain characteristics differed between the sorghum and cowpea programs and these key factors
give some indication as to why there were significant differences in their returns. First, the
improved cowpea technology represented a completely new farming system, while the
introduced sorghum technology was simply a complement to traditional practices. The cowpea
technology filled an existing need--an early maturing food crop to relieve hungry season food
shortages. On the other hand, under normal rainfall conditions, the sorghum technology (the
new variety S35) was just one more variety in a pool of over 1,800 accessions that have been
identified in the region. S35 enjoyed some success because it also addressed a need of farmers
in the region--a sorghum variety that is extremely drought tolerant. However, this need is not
nearly as predictable or regular as the needs met by the cowpea technologies. Second, the
development of the cowpea technology focussed entirely on varietal screening. Even the success
of the sorghum program depended not on a variety developed by its breeding program but one
identified in screening trials. Both cases imply higher returns were found for screening
activities. This conclusion is underscored by two factors: (a) screening programs are cheaper
because many of the costs of generating the "improved" variety have already been incurred by
other projects and institutions, and (b) the appropriateness of screening versus breeding depends
on its timing relative to the region's overall development scheme. Third, the incentives faced by
cash crop farmers in northern Cameroon went through an evolution during the period that these
technologies were being developed and extended. Because of these changes, cowpea became a
viable alternative to cotton, the traditional cash crop. This change undoubtedly contributed to
the higher adoption rates for the cowpea technology relative to the sorghum technology. Fourth,
the relative difficulty of the problems addressed by the two programs may also explain some of
the differences in the returns. Sorghum, relative to cowpea, has presented a formidable problem
to researchers throughout West and Central Africa for over thirty years. Low returns to sorghum
research, although undesirable, may simply reflect long-term historical trends and the possibility
that returns to research and extension may, in part, be dependent upon the research agenda itself.

Analysis of key institutions, and their inter- and intra-relationships partially explain how
"successes" were achieved in northern Cameroon. Linkages within and between institutions
proved critical to achieving positive rates of return. Three insights were particularly clear from
the analyses. First, linkages within the research-extension system were critical. Second,
linkages between the system and international research institutions were equally important. And
third, government agricultural policies influenced the system's performance. Institutions also
influenced the distribution of returns. In general, the technologies probably favored men relative
to women, and cotton farmers relative to non-cotton farmers.

Tags: capacity building, food security group, idwp, impact assessment

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