Unravelling the variability and causes of smallholder maize yield gaps in Ethiopia

Banchayehu Tessema Assefa*, Jordan Chamberlin, Pytrik Reidsma, João Vasco Silva, Martin K. van Ittersum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Ethiopia has achieved the second highest maize yield in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, farmers’ maize yields are still much lower than on-farm and on-station trial yields, and only ca. 20% of the estimated water-limited potential yield. This article provides a comprehensive national level analysis of the drivers of maize yields in Ethiopia, by decomposing yield gaps into efficiency, resource and technology components, and accounting for a broad set of detailed input and crop management choices. Stochastic frontier analysis was combined with concepts of production ecology to estimate and explain technically efficient yields, the efficiency yield gap and the resource yield gap. The technology yield gap was estimated based on water-limited potential yields from the Global Yield Gap Atlas. The relative magnitudes of the efficiency, resource and technology yield gaps differed across farming systems; they ranged from 15% (1.6 t/ha) to 21% (1.9 t/ha), 12% (1.3 t/ha) to 25% (2.3 t/ha) and 54% (4.8 t/ha) to 73% (7.8 t/ha), respectively. Factors that reduce the efficiency yield gap include: income from non-farm sources, value of productive assets, education and plot distance from home. The resource yield gap can be explained by sub-optimal input use, from a yield perspective. The technology yield gap comprised the largest share of the total yield gap, partly due to limited use of fertilizer and improved seeds. We conclude that targeted but integrated policy design and implementation is required to narrow the overall maize yield gap and improve food security.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-103
JournalFood Security
Issue number1
Early online date2 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Production ecology
  • Smallholder agriculture
  • Stochastic frontier analysis
  • Sustainable intensification
  • Yield response to N
  • Zea mays L


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