The benefits of social science

Woman peeling cassava. Photo by IITA.
Woman peeling cassava. Photo by IITA.

Agricultural research is the key to achieving IITA’s mission of enhancing food security and reducing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, IITA undertakes research with and for the people and engages a whole range of partners along the research-to-development continuum. The effectiveness of this approach depends, however, on the richness of the social science context that is required to ensure the relevance of agricultural research in the discovery, adaptation, adoption, and diffusion of new technologies and institutional innovations.

The focus and methods of socioeconomics research, particularly of impact assessment, have evolved over time in response to donors’ interests and research mandates.

Traditionally social sciences was narrowly defined and focused on working in collaboration with biophysical scientists on issues related to technology generation and delivery. The research agenda centered on several sets of key questions: the extent of and constraints to adoption; the impacts of technology adoption on yields and household incomes; and ex-ante (or expected) benefits from new technologies. From a rather narrow emphasis on the adoption of new varieties in the 1970s, the focus has now expanded to estimating rates of return to research investments in the 1980s and to examining a wider range of impacts and the distribution of benefits across different socioeconomic groups after the 1990s.

Currently, IITA’s socioeconomists undertake a wide range of socioeconomic and impact assessment activities supporting broader technology development and delivery efforts.

This issue presents highlights of some recent research in socioeconomics and impact assessment and IITA’s social science research agenda for the next decade. A set of studies addresses strategic, macro-level impact and policy issues and offers strategic information and analyses. For instance, one study showed significant productivity gains realized after the mid-1980s, driven principally by agricultural research and development (R&D), improved weather, and policy reforms.

Another study found that, with the successful implementation of emerging national strategies for the agricultural sector, agricultural growth is expected to increase from 4.6% under a business-as-usual scenario to 6.4% with the implementation of national strategies.

One study exploring technological and policy options for forest and biodiversity conservation in West Africa showed that strategies to reduce deforestation and conserve biodiversity must focus on transforming agricultural practices from traditional to modern science-based methods.

Several other recent studies also address the extent, determinants, and impacts of adoption of a range of production and processing technologies and institutional innovations developed and promoted by IITA and partners.

Social science is a vital dimension to our biological science.
— DG Hartmann