Improving smallholder farmer's soil nutrient management: the effect of science and technology backyards in the North China plain
Li, Fan; Li, Dangui; Voors, Maarten; Feng, Shuyi; Zhang, Weifeng; Heerink, Nico
Purpose: Soil nutrient management and fertilizer use by farmers are important for sustainable grain production. The authors examined the effect of an experimental agricultural extension program, the science and technology backyard, in promoting sustainable soil nutrient management in the North China Plain (NCP). The science and technology backyard integrates farmer field schools, field demonstrations, and case-to-case counselling to promote sustainable farming practices among rural smallholders. Design/methodology/approach: The authors conducted a large-scale household survey of more than 2,000 rural smallholders. The authors used a multivariate regression analysis as the benchmark to assess the effect of the science-and-technology backyard on smallholder soil nutrient management. Furthermore, the authors used coarse exact matching (CEM) methods to control for potential bias due to self-selection and the (endogenous) switching regression approach as the main empirical analysis. Findings: The results show that the science-and-technology backyard program increased smallholders' wheat yield by approximately 0.23 standard deviation; however, no significant increase in maize yield was observed. Regarding soil nutrient use efficiency, the authors found a significant improvement in smallholders' phosphorus and potassium use efficiencies for both wheat and maize production, and a significant improvement in nitrogen use efficiency for wheat production, but no significant improvement of nitrogen use efficiency for maize production. Originality/value: This study evaluated a novel participatory agricultural extension model to improve soil nutrient management practices among smallholders. The integration of agronomists' scientific knowledge and smallholders' local contextual experiences could be an effective way to improve farmers' soil nutrient management. This study provides the first quantitative estimates based on rigorous impact assessment methods of this novel extension approach in rural China.