Are yield gaps bad?

Large regional differences in crop yields have led many to conclude that these “yield gaps” should be closed. Indeed, closing yield gaps has become its own policy goal with the intent of alleviating global food security concerns.

In “Rethinking Yield Gaps,” economists from the International Science & Technology Practice & Policy (InSTePP) center at the University of Minnesota consider the wisdom of targeting policies at closing yield gaps by exploring a simple, but salient question — Are yield gaps bad?

They conclude that yield gaps are not necessarily bad. Yield gaps often reflect important bio-physical constraints and socioeconomic realities faced by farmers. While policies that alleviate these constraints can close yield gaps, their cost can be high, with uncertain global food security consequences.

Thus, closing yield gaps is neither necessary nor sufficient for achieving global food security. Global food security concerns are better addressed by policies that target where and how the most cost-effective gains in productivity can be made.

Photos: left, Ntcheu Malawi farmer by Argen van de Merwe; Right, Minnesota cornfield courtesy of the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.