Types of Research
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Common estimates of agricultural productivity rely upon crude measures of crop yield, typically defined as the weight harvested of a crop divided by the area harvested. But this common yield measure poorly reflects performance among farm systems combining multiple crops in one area (e.g., intercropping), and also ignores the possibility that farmers might lose crop area between planting and harvest (e.g., partial crop failure). Drawing on detailed plot-level data from the LSMS-ISA in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, we show how various yield measurement decisions affect estimates of smallholder yields for a variety of crops. We consider the effect of measuring production by plot area, area planted, and area harvested, of trimming the top 1% and 2% of values, and of considering different groups of farmers according to total area planted.
Household survey data are a key source of information for policy-makers at all levels. In developing countries, household data are commonly used to target interventions and evaluate progress towards development goals. The World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) are a particularly rich source of nationally-representative panel data for six Sub-Saharan African countries: Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. To help understand how these data are used, EPAR reviewed the existing literature referencing the LSMS-ISA and identified 415 publications, working papers, reports, and presentations with primary research based on LSMS-ISA data. We find that use of the LSMS-ISA has been increasing each year since the first survey waves were made available in 2009, with several universities, multilateral organizations, government offices, and research groups across the globe using the data to answer questions on agricultural productivity, farm management, poverty and welfare, nutrition, and several other topics.
EPAR’s Political Economy of Fertilizer Policy series provides a history of government intervention in the fertilizer markets of eight Sub-Saharan African countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania. The briefs focus on details of present and past voucher programs, input subsidies, tariffs in the fertilizer sector, and the political context of these policies. The briefs illustrate these policies’ effect on key domestic crops and focus on the strengths and weaknesses of current market structure. Fertilizer policy in SSA has been extremely dynamic over the last fifty years, swinging from enormous levels of intervention in the 1960s and 70s to liberalization of markets of the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, intervention has become more moderate, focusing on “market smart” subsidies and support. This executive summary highlights key findings and common themes from the series.
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.
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.
Smallholder farmers in Africa are largely located in poor rural areas, are often geographically dispersed, and have limited access to road and communication infrastructure, thus raising the cost of market participation. This is especially true for farmers growing relatively low value staple crops. This literature review summarizes research on the challenges and innovations in linking smallholder producers of staple grains to markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on post-harvest issues including storage, aggregation, and transportation. For each post-harvest stage, we describe challenges faced by farmers and current efforts to address these challenges. In our review, we find a large amount of literature on the constraints to smallholder production and marketing but relatively few examples of innovative or novel technologies designed to improve storage and transportation for rural smallholder producers in Africa. Existing technologies have often been available for some time but have not seen widespread adoption, apparently due to high costs or inadequate funding for on-farm testing and extension. We conclude that the literature is somewhat divided as to whether interventions linking smallholder farmers to markets should be entirely market-driven and focus on linkages that can be profitable without subsidization, or whether NGO- and donor-driven interventions should play a role.
Yam is a major staple in West and Central Africa and an important supplementary food in East Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), virtually all yams are produced for human consumption, with women responsible for processing yams for consumption. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in yam production, and provides a framework for analyzing barriers to women and technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that though yam was traditionally considered a man’s crop, it is clear that women farmers contribute greatly to yam cultivation, especially during weeding, harvesting, and processing. Propagation of improved varieties with resistance to pests and diseases like yam mosaic disease has great potential to benefit women farmers. Increased yields and lower post-harvest losses will increase household food security. However, because yams extract high amounts of nutrients from the soil, soil and land management techniques are necessary to ensure future gains in yield. Women’s groups serve as potential venues for dissemination of new yam cultivation and processing technologies. Additionally, women’s groups can undertake new propagation techniques as income generating activities. Women farmers need increased extension efforts to fully benefit from technology improvements.
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.
The millets, a group of small-seeded grasses indigenous to Africa, are an extremely important staple food in resource-poor regions of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Millet requires few inputs, suffers less from insect pests and disease than other grains, and can tolerate areas even too hot and dry for sorghum. These characteristics make millet an essential component of food security and risk management strategies for many Africans, though both consumption and production per capita of millet has declined in the last 20 years as farmers have shifted toward maize and rice production. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in millet production, and provides a framework for analyzing barriers to women and technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that the shift away from millet may result in poorer nutrition and increased time burden for women where they must find alternatives to millet fuel, but that little is known about these consequences. Investing in improved varieties that account for both men’s and women’s preferences, introducing labor-saving technology, and increasing market access all have the potential to increase millet’s production and consumption on the continent.
Sorghum grows well in arid and semi-arid agroecological zones and is thus one of the most important cereals in the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Both men and women cultivate sorghum primarily for household consumption, though women are nearly exclusively responsible for post-harvest production of the grain, including brewing and selling sorghum beer. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in sorghum production, and provides a framework for analyzing barriers to women and technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that improved sorghum varieties have the potential to greatly increase sorghum yields in SSA by alleviating cultivation threats from striga, pests, and drought. Because women farmers are the primary cultivators of sorghum, they stand to benefit most from these improved varieties. However, low adoption rates of new technologies suggest that more resources need to be dedicated to extension efforts and informal seed distribution networks that include women farmers. Post-harvest processing of sorghum is both time and labor intensive and is causing many women farmers to transition to maize or rice. Finally, increased demand for sorghum as a biofuel stock may not translate into gains for women farmers as expected, because women farmers tend to lack input resources, and women farmers often lose control over crops as they transition to cash crops.