Joint decision-making, technology adoption, and food security: Evidence from rice varieties in eastern India

 Maria Luz L. Malabayabas, Ashok K. Mishra, and Valerien O. Pede   |  

Joint decision-making is gaining significant traction in literature. To this end, studies investigating the adoption of technologies focusing on male decision-makers may lead to biased estimates. However, more studies are needed on the married couple’s participation in decision-making regarding farming-related activities, especially rice seed varieties in India.  This study investigates the factors affecting married couples’ participation in the joint decision-making of adopting rice varieties and assesses the impact of the joint decision-making strategy on food security—measured by rice productivity.

Increased crop productivity through the adoption of modern technologies (improved seeds, synthetic fertilizer, irrigation, and mechanization) is considered one of the greatest legacies of the Green Revolution in South and Southeast Asia and a source of food security.

The introduction of modern technologies has increased food security and reduced poverty in developing and emerging economies worldwide. Rice is one of the crops that benefited from genetic improvement and resulted in estimated economic gains between USD 296 million – USD 9.9 billion. In India alone, there are more than 900 modern rice varieties (1975–2010) and around 47 hybrid rice varieties (1994–2010) released by the government.

Rice plays a vital role in Indian agriculture as a major supplier of calories in the Indian diet, covering approximately 35% of the total area under food grains. Despite the rice varietal developments, there has been noticeable slow productivity growth in food grains in recent decades compared to the early decade of the Green Revolution.

Eastern India is one region that experienced slow rice productivity and food insecurity. Two possible reasons may contribute to the low growth in rice productivity. These include a lack of desirable traits of high-yielding rice varieties and adverse effects of climatic conditions.

For example, it was estimated that drought events between 1970 and 2000 resulted in an average loss in rice production of 5.4 million tons or USD 162 million. This low yield growth will substantially impact the region since rice farming is dominated by fragmented and smaller holdings, lack of irrigation facilities, and frequent adverse climatic conditions. Given the conditions in rice farming states in eastern India, this may trigger the continuing vicious circle of low input-low output agriculture and, consequently, food insecurity and loss of livelihood.

To reduce the variability in farm income and uncertainty in livelihood, male heads of households have sought off-farm or dual employment to increase family income. The labor movement from agriculture has increased the daily nominal wage rate for various farm activities, including plowing, sowing, and rice transplanting.

A report by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics shows that the nominal wage rate increased 3.6 to 4.2 times during the 2004–2014 period. The movement to the non-rural sector was further enhanced by government programs like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which led to labor shortages in agricultural production.

In most developing economies, farming decisions (such as selecting crops, technology, and labor) traditionally have been made by the male household heads. However, in the absence of male decision-makers, spouses are increasingly responsible for making farming-related decisions. Studies reveal that Indian rice farmers’ income sources have become more diversified in recent years, which has led to significant changes in gender roles within the households. Further, existing studies tend to rely on household heads’ information in analyzing the adoption of technologies.

Today, it is more likely than in the past that farming-related decisions are made jointly. Joint decision-making is gaining significant traction in literature. To this end, studies investigating the adoption of technologies focusing on male decision-makers may lead to biased estimates. However, there needs to be more studies on the married couple’s participation in decision-making regarding farming-related activities, especially rice seed varieties in India.

Thus, the objective of this study is twofold. First, to investigate the factors affecting married couples’ participation in the joint decision-making of adopting rice varieties. Second, to assess the impact of the joint decision-making strategy on food security—measured by rice productivity.

This paper used the 2016 Rice Monitoring Survey, a large nationally representative household-level survey data than previously reported from India. Our study contributes to the literature in several ways. First, the study focuses on why married couples choose joint decision-making regarding rice varieties.

Since this study is based on observational data, the decision-making strategy choices are not distributed randomly, making the two groups systematically different. The study employs endogenous switching regression (ESR) to account for selection bias and endogeneity.

Second, the impact of a joint decision-making strategy on rice productivity is generated using counterfactual estimation. Findings from this study will guide policymakers regarding the implementation of agricultural development strategies, technology uptake, and extension programs. In particular, developing outreach materials appropriate for spouses and their involvement in farming to increase food security (or rice productivity) in the eastern region of India.

This study analyzed the factors affecting joint decision-making in selecting rice varieties and assessed the impact of joint decision-making on food security measures—rice yields. The study used a large and unique 2016 Rice Monitoring Survey and the ESR method.

In general, findings showed that farming households with joint decision-making tend to have higher rice yields than their counterparts, but not all the time. Households with joint decision-making strategies positively impacted rice yield, particularly when adopting MRVGen1 (before 1986) varieties. Farmers who adopted joint decision-making tend to have higher rice yields of MRVGen1 (before 1986) than farmers who did not adopt a joint decision-making strategy in the counterfactual.

Adoption of MRVGen1 (before 1986) among joint decision-making households increase rice yield due to familiarity and grain quality preference with the varieties. Similarly, a joint decision-making strategy on choosing rice variety has a higher yield advantage than male decision-making households in all castes.

Since joint decision-making households perform well when choosing MRVGen1 rice varieties (composed of rice varieties like Swarna,11 Lalat, MTU-1001, Moti, and Sambha Mahsori), increasing awareness about the flood-tolerant, better grain quality and improved pest resistance rice varieties should be targeted in the above group. There are ways of expanding a spouse’s participation in rice production activities.

First is the involvement in varietal development. One way of verifying newly developed rice variety lines’ acceptability is through Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS). In this method, husband and their spouses can participate in the initial screening before varieties are released.

Usually, participants are selected based on the proportion of the male-headed and female-headed in the area responsible for making farming decisions in the household. Since our sample shows that eastern India is mainly composed of male-headed families, there is a possibility that women can also participate in choosing rice varieties. For example, a study shows that female farmers are as knowledgeable as male farmers in evaluating the lines/variety of visible characteristics.

To incorporate women’s participation in PVS strategies for submergence tolerant varieties in Southeast Asia, researchers involved the participating households’ wives by selecting only a sub-sample of the farmer participants. In India, where most are male-headed households, exploring the individual and the couple’s preferences when selecting new variety lines is warranted.

Thus, international research institutes like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) should include the preferred grain quality traits in the breeding programs, ultimately benefiting resource-poor smallholders.

Second, there is a high yield impact among joint decision-making strategies when adopting local varieties. Until now, there is a large proportion of farmers that still adopt local varieties despite an increased number of MRV releases in India.

This paper defines local varieties as rice varieties that do not have seed certification from the government. It may be the case that the reported local varieties are unrecognizable among farmers due to their continuous use and poor seed systems that affect the rice variety’s authenticity.

It has been found that India’s average varietal replacement age ranges from 18 to 19 years, meaning that farmers will continuously use the same rice variety that usually comes from their previous harvest. To assess the identity of the local varieties, DNA fingerprinting should be explored for more reliable and accurate identification of variety types.

A study found that using DNA fingerprinting on the farmer-reported rice varieties in Bangladesh shows that the farmer-reported local rice varieties come from two predominant matches: BR22 (Bangladesh rice variety) and Horidhan (Indian rice variety). Proper identification of these farmer-reported rice varieties will help rice breeders and policymakers accurately assess the impact of rice variety on rice productivity in India.

Third, targeting a woman’s self-help group (WSHG) is one of the most natural pathways to reaching spouses. WSHGs serve as channels for disseminating information, particularly in areas hard for extension workers to enter and marginalized groups are majorly located. Since MRVs are composed of specific agronomical characteristics (e.g., potential yield, grain size, resistance to pests and diseases), information can be disseminated through farmer’s field schools or demonstration plots.

The demonstration trials would enable women, particularly in the marginalized sector to be exposed to new rice varieties, labor-saving technologies, and proper farm management practices, leading to higher adoption rates.

The current study provided evidence from a large sample of Indian rice farmers. But, the study could be used by policymakers in other developing countries in South and Southeast Asia that are major rice producers.

These countries have a similar profile regarding smallholder agriculture, rice production, and livelihood strategies. This study examined the impact of joint decision-making on rice yields, but it has a caveat. The study used cross-sectional data for one rice season, suggesting that the findings only apply on a short-run basis and should be interpreted accordingly.

One needs to investigate this issue with panel data to capture long-term adoption impacts. The degree of the spouse’s control within the joint decision-making framework is worth exploring in future studies.

Read the study:
Malabayabas ML, Mishra AK, and Pede VO. 2023 Joint decision-making, technology adoption. and food security: Evidence from rice varieties in eastern India. World Development Vol. 171.

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