Types of Research
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Ecological farming and conventional farming are two approaches to producing food. The term “ecological farming” describes a range of agricultural systems that seek to provide food and environmental and social benefits by using natural processes and local resources rather than off-farm, purchased inputs (commonly referred to as “external inputs”). Recent debate about the merits of ecological farming over conventional methods has centered on each system’s ability to increase production in the context of numerous and varied biophysical and social constraints. A review of the literature suggests that ecological farming can offer some benefits to smallholder farmers, but that specific approaches must be tailored to local climate and soil conditions and availability of labor, training, and organic inputs.
In the decades following independence in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire stood out as a shining example of economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. GDP increased at an annual average of 8.1 percent from 1960 to 1979, led largely by cocoa and coffee exports. Low export earnings from a fall in world cocoa prices and a heavy public debt burden halted this growth in the 1980s, followed by civil conflict beginning in 1999. Three decades of focus on export crops rather than food crops also left Côte d’Ivoire with a growing food deficit. This literature review examines the state of agriculture in Côte d’Ivoire and the history of government involvement in the agricultural sector. We find that while the country is poised to reemerge from a decade of economic stagnation and civil war after signing the Ouagadougou Political Accord in 2007, the political economy of Côte d’Ivoire is still heavily dependent upon and influenced by the production of cocoa. Cocoa is the top export, and cocoa export taxes provide one of the largest sources of revenue for the Government of Côte d’Ivoire (GoCI). Cocoa is not heavily dependent on fertilizer inputs and growers have increased production by expanding cropland. The small contribution of fertilizer to the production of this essential crop may help explain the GoCI’s low priority on expanding fertilizer production and use. Given that a large part of government revenue comes from the export of cocoa and coffee, the government has chosen to focus resources on crops that increase revenue. Even with the food riots in 2008, the GoCI has not made increasing domestic food production an important focus of agricultural policy.
In Mozambique, the legacies of colonial rule, socialism and civil war continue to constrain economic growth and agricultural production. Eighty percent of Mozambique’s labor force derives its livelihood from agriculture, but the nation remains a net food importer. The majority of all farmland is cultivated by smallholders whose fertilizer usage and crop yields are among the lowest in Africa. While Mozambique has experienced reasonable economic growth since the end of its civil war in 1992, it remains poor by almost any measure. In this literature review, we examine the state of agriculture in Mozambique, the country’s political history and post-war recovery, and the current fertilizer market. We find evidence that smallholder access to fertilizer in Mozambique is limited by lack of information, affordability, access to credit, a poor business environment, and limited infrastructure. The data demonstrate that increased investment in infrastructure is an important step to improve input and output market access for smallholders. The main government intervention currently impacting smallholder fertilizer use is the Agricultural Sector Public Expenditure Program (PROAGRI) initiative, however, more data is necessary to assess the impact of its policies and programs.
Agriculture is the most important sector in the Ghanaian economy. In 2008, it accounted for over 32 percent of GDP and employed over half of the labor force. Economic development in Ghana has historically been dependent on the success of agriculture, particularly the main export crop, cocoa. Despite the sector’s importance, Ghanaian farmers have one of the lowest fertilizer application rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. The combination of a dominant agricultural sector, nutrient-poor soils, low fertilizer use among smallholder farmers, and the absence of locally produced inorganic fertilizers has prompted the government of Ghana (GoG) to intervene in the fertilizer market. This literature review examines the state of agriculture in Ghana, the history of the fertilizer market, and the current market structure. We find that the GoG has been a major actor in the inorganic fertilizer market over the past 50 years, from exercising total control of the domestic supply chain in the 1960s and 1970s to more indirect interventions in later years. In recent years, agricultural growth has averaged 5.5 percent as compared to 5.2 percent growth in the rest of the economy. However, most of this growth has been due to land expansion and favorable weather conditions rather than increased productivity. Increased fertilizer use among smallholder farmers has the potential to contribute to future agricultural growth and continued economic success.
In Tanzania, agriculture represents approximately 50 percent of GDP, 80 percent of rural employment, and over 50 percent of the foreign exchange earnings. Yet poor soil fertility and resulting low productivity contribute to low economic growth and widespread poverty. Chemical fertilizer has the potential to contribute to crop yield increases. Yet high prices and weaknesses in the fertilizer market keep fertilizer use low. This literature review examines the history of government interventions that have intended to increase access to fertilizers, and reviews current policies, market structure, and challenges that contribute to the present conditions. We find that despite numerous strategies over the last fifty years, from heavy government involvement to liberalization, major weaknesses in Tanzania’s fertilizer market prevent efficient use of fertilizer. High transportation costs, low knowledge level of farmers and agrodealers, unavailability of improved seed, and limited access to credit all contribute to the market’s problems. The government’s current framework, the Tanzania Agriculture Input Partnership (TAIP), acknowledges this interconnectedness by targeting multiple components of the market. This model could help Tanzania tailor solutions relevant to specific road, soil, and market conditions of different areas of the country, contributing to enhanced food security and economic growth.
Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa have often intervened in the fertilizer sector to promote more optimal levels of fertilizer use. Many West African nations, in particular, have inherited a legacy of government involvement, stemming from French colonial policies that encouraged state participation in the agricultural sector. Senegal's colonial past has influenced much of its present economy, from its principal export crop (peanuts) to its major food import (rice). The colonial legacy includes a relatively high degree of urbanization; limited domestic industrial capacity; institutions, policies, and agricultural networks focused on supporting a single export crop; and a history of state intervention into markets. After government intervention in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by a period of liberalization in the 1980s and 1990s, Senegal is again defining its agricultural policy. This literature review examines the state of agriculture in Senegal and the history of Senegalese agricultural policy in order to understand past and current trends in fertilizer usage. We find that Senegal continues to experience a high level of food price fluctuations as it imports increasing amounts of rice to cover its food deficit. Increased use of fertilizer, along with irrigation technology may help improve rice production and increase food security. To achieve this goal, the Government of Senegal (GoS) has embarked on several initiatives, notably the Agro-Silvo-Pastoral Law (LOASP) and the Grande Offensive Agricole pour la Nourriture et l’Abondance (GOANA), employing subsidies to increase fertilizer demand and making food sovereignty a national priority. In the coming years, GoS will need to determine what role the government should play in the agricultural sector, and what level of intervention can be sustained in the long-term.
Bt maize technology involves developing hybrid maize crops that incorporate genes from the soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The primary benefit of Bt maize technology is the heightened crop protection from stem borers, which are maize pests that can inflict serious crop losses. Bt maize has been cultivated in Mexico, South Africa and several countries in the European Union, with limited cultivation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This report provides a summary of literature on the potential benefits and challenges associated with Bt maize production in SSA. Research studies of Bt maize in the Philippines and South Africa are also briefly reviewed. There is little peer-reviewed literature available, with evidence challenging the assumed benefits of Bt maize for smallholder farmers in SSA. As a result, we also review research briefs and conference proceedings available from reputable international organizations. Although some of the available literature references the ethical concerns over Bt maize production, we focus on searching for science-based discussions related to any potential biodiversity, biosafety, or socio-economic impacts of Bt maize technology for smallholder farmers in SSA.
The Government of Kenya (GoK) has historically encouraged its farmers to use fertilizer by financing infrastructure and supporting fertilizer markets. From 1974 to 1984, the GoK provided a fertilizer importation monopoly to one firm, the Kenya Farmers Association. However, the GoK saw that this monopoly impeded fertilizer market development by prohibiting competing firms from entering the market and, in the latter half of the 1980s, encouraged other firms to enter the highly regulated fertilizer market. This report examines the state of fertilizer use in Kenya by reviewing and summarizing literature on recent fertilizer price increases, Kenya’s fertilizer usage trends and approaches, market forces, and the impact of government and non-government programs. We find that most studies of Kenya’s fertilizer market find it to be well functioning and generally competitive, and conclude that market reform has stimulated fertilizer use mainly by improving farmers’ access to the input through the expansion of private retail networks. Overall fertilizer consumption in Kenya has increased steadily since 1980, and fertilizer use among smallholders is among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet fertilizer consumption is still limited, especially on cereal crops, and in areas where agroecological conditions create greater risks and lower returns to fertilizer use.
Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) use less fertilizer than farmers in any other region in the world. Low fertilizer use is one factor explaining the lag in agricultural productivity growth in Africa. A variety of market interventions to increase fertilizer use have been attempted over the years, with limited success. In the past several decades, Malawi has tried to alter that trend through a variety of innovative programs aimed at achieving national food security through targeted input subsidy programs. The best known of these programs is Malawi’s Starter Pack Programme. The Starter Pack Programme was amended twice into the Targeted Inputs Programme (TIP) and Expanded Targeted Inputs Programme (ETIP), and eventually replaced with the Agricultural Input Subsidy Programme (AISP). The efficiency and equity of the Starter Pack Programme and its successors have been the subject of debate. This report reviews the history, implementation, and perceived effectiveness of the various input subsidy schemes in the context of Malawi’s political economy. We find that AISP is credited with significantly increasing maize yields in Malawi. However, we also find that there are serious challenges facing the most recent input subsidy program, ranging from the rising cost of the subsidy to ongoing implementation struggles related to increased bureaucracy and corruption.
Though not indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), cassava plays, to varying degrees, five major roles in African development: famine-reserve crop, rural food staple, cash crop for urban consumption, livestock feed, and industrial raw material. Cassava production in SSA was historically a significant staple crop for smallholder farmers and continues to be the second most important food crop in Africa (after maize) in terms of calories consumed. Subsistence crops such as cassava are often considered women’s crops with the standard explanation that women are responsible for feeding the family and thus prefer to grow crops for the household. This brief reviews the role that women play in cassava production, and considers ways to better address gender issues from planting through post-harvest production. We find that the potential gains to cassava production made possible through improved technology will not be fully realized without the participation of women farmers and without women farmers having access to credit, markets, and extension services. Additionally, evidence from SSA suggests that labor for harvesting and processing, rather than labor for weeding, has become the key labor constraint for cassava, and addressing this concern may be more important than further yield increases for raising production levels.