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This study uses a nationally representative cross-section survey conducted in 2016 from rural Timor-Leste to examine the impact of the adoption of improved maize varieties introduced through the Seeds of Life (SoL) program during 2007-2015. SoL was a large-scale agricultural development program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The program aimed to increase the productivity of the major food crops in Timor-Leste by selecting and distributing improved varieties. Timor-Leste is one of the poorest and most food insecure countries in the world with approximately 79% of its labour force relying on small-scale, subsistence crop farming. We examine the impact of adopting the high yielding SoL maize varieties on farm household’s food security and economic welfare using a wide range of outcome indicators. To account for potential endogeneity associated with adoption we follow a quasi-experimental approach and use an instrumental variable, suco (village)-level literacy rate, to generate exogenous variation in the adoption of SoL maize varieties. Controlling for household, farm, village characteristics, and region fixed effects, the instrumental variable regression results reveal the expected first order impact of adoption on total maize yield. Further, we find evidence supporting movement out of subsistence farming as we observe that SoL maize adopters have a higher propensity to sell crops in the market. Finally, we also identify significant positive second order impacts of adoption on food security and economic well-being. Specifically, adoption of SoL maize varieties has a positive effect food security measured using Food Consumption Score (FCS) and Reduced Coping Strategy Index (rCSI), and economic well-being measured using household living standard (construction material of the house) and non-land asset index. In conclusion, interventions such as SoL have the potential to alleviate food insecurity and poverty by stimulating the rural economy.
Sonia Akter is Assistant Dean (Research) and Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Previously she was Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) where she led the Gender Research Team and was the coordinator for gender research of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) program of the CGIAR (2014-2015). Prior to that, she was Senior Researcher at Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ, Leipzig, Germany (2011-2013). She graduated with a PhD in Environmental Management and Development from the Australian National University in 2010, and holds a MS degree in Economics from York University, Toronto, Canada. She has worked on numerous policy-oriented research projects in South and Southeast Asia, Australia and Canada. Her three key research interests are climate change mitigation and adaptation policy, agriculture and food security, gender equity and women empowerment. She has published extensively on the design of institutions to encourage resilience and economic approaches to address socio-economic vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. She has considerable experience working with communities, with particular focus on the developing world. She has (co)authored over 20 publications, including journal articles, books and book chapters. She is presently an Editor for the journal Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies and Associate Editor for Food Security. She has served in numerous advisory roles and expert panels including as Advisor of IRRI Gender Research Program (2015-2016) and a member of the impact assessment panel of the Seeds of Life program of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) (2015-2016).