For many farmers in Ethiopia, a country that largely relies on agriculture for its economy, the success or failure of their crops is largely explained by God’s will, according to a new study. Researchers also found religious farmers are more risk-taking due to their trust in God as the omniscient and just power in determining outcomes under uncertainty.
Agriculture accounts for 40% of Ethiopia’s GDP, 80% of its exports, and 75% of the country’s workforce. However, only 5% of the land is irrigated, crop yields are below regional averages, and the use of improved seeds, fertilizers, and herbicides is limited. The main crops are coffee, oilseeds, cereals, potatoes, sugarcane, and pulses.
At the society level, religion is more than a personal belief. Previous studies have found that religion affects socio-economic outcomes. It increases work ethic, honesty, and social capital and decreases time and resources devoted to productive activities. It also affects attitudes to science and innovation and influences individual beliefs and values that affect overall socio-economic decisions.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen surveyed over 800 small-scale farmers in Ethiopia to see how religious they are, and how this influences their decision. They found that over 25% of the surveyed farmers believe that God ultimately decides everything and actively intervenes in their success. The finding can contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind unproductive agriculture in developing countries, the researchers emphasize.
“Both our data and other recent studies show that people in developing countries are generally willing to take risks. But now we are able to explain it through religiosity,” Goytom Abraha Kahsay, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen and the study lead author, who is originally from Ethiopia, said in a media statement.
Religion and agriculture
Small-scale farming is the main occupation in Ethiopia, where over 80% of the population lives in rural areas – as is the case in most of the Sub-Saharan area of Africa. Furthermore, over 95% of the farmers in Ethiopia are small-scale with very low incomes. They rely on rainfed agriculture, which makes them vulnerable to climate change (drought and floods).
The findings showed that both religious and non-religious farmers are generally willing to take risks when it comes to economic decisions. However, the more religious the farmers are, the more their risk preferences increase, the researchers found. Most of the population in Ethiopia is Christian (mainly Ethiopian-Orthodox and Protestant), while the second-largest religion in the country is Islam.
“If we’re to improve farming practices in poor countries, we need to understand how farmers make the decisions that affect their economic outcomes. And religiosity appears to play a significant role. It’s obvious to study what explains whether farmers are successful or not, and to what extent their success is influenced by religiosity,” said Goytom Abraha Kahsay.
The researchers hope their findings about the role of religiosity can be useful in shaping new political initiatives. They suggested authorities could work with religious institutions to make a difference in technology adoption and climate adaptation. The researchers are now working to understand what’s getting in the way of farmers using modern technology.