Types of Research
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.
In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), maize alone provides an estimated one third of the mean caloric intake and in 2006, accounted for 21% of all harvested food crops, making it the single most important food crop in the region. In addition, maize is also used as feedgrain and fodder, adding to its importance in integrated smallholder farming systems in SSA. In general, women are the main producers of staple crops such as maize. Understanding the gender dimensions of maize is particularly challenging because maize is used as both a subsistence and cash crop, and may be considered either a male or female crop depending on farmer circumstances and how the particular variety is promoted. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in maize production, and provides a framework for analyzing barriers to women and technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that lower access to factors such as extension access, education level, land, and labor contribute to female’s lower rate of maize technology adoption. Understanding women’s disproportionate access to resources and how improved technology may change allocation of resources should help project developers improve both women’s and men’s productivity.
In the last half century, the increased opportunity cost of women’s time in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has led to remarkable growth in the consumption of wheat and other easy-to-prepare staples. Wheat tends to be grown and processed on a large scale in SSA. Ethiopia (SSA’s largest producer of wheat) is the exception, where smallholders are responsible for 76% of total production. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in wheat production, and provides a framework for analyzing technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that many constraints exist to adoption of improved wheat varieties by women. A review of improved wheat variety adoption in the developing world found that it takes 5-10 years after breeding to the release and another 5-10 years for full adoption, but this length of time has been found to be reduced with the use of participatory breeding, varietal selection, and gender analysis. By including women in every stage of development and planning of new technologies, programs can become more aware of the needs of targeted women and therefore, increase adoption rates and improve the productivity of men and women in wheat farming.
As a source of employment for over 20 million Sub-Saharan African (SSA) farmers and the fastest-growing food source in Africa, rice plays a vital role in African economies and daily life. Women play a substantial role in SSA rice production and rely heavily on the income it generates. Not recognizing this role has often resulted in development and research projects failing to address women’s well-being and also failing to achieve project and development goals. Female farmers in SSA have been less likely than male farmers to adopt productivity-enhancing rice technologies such as improved seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, or small machinery, even when those technologies are designed specifically to help women. A more complete understanding of the dynamics and diversity of gender roles in rice farming is necessary to improve the likelihood of successful interventions. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in rice production, and provides a framework for analyzing technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that labor constraints, low education levels, cultural inappropriateness, and asymmetric access to resources all contribute to low adoption of rice technology by women. In order to fully realize the poverty reduction benefits of increased rice production in SSA, evidence suggests that research and extension programs must consider how interventions will affect women along every stage of the production chain. The effect on women and their households will vary depending on region, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and role in cultivating rice.
Lack of nitrogen (N) is often cited as the most limiting factor in agriculture. Although N composes nearly 80% of the atmosphere, plants are unable to use this form of the element (N2) because of the strong triple bonds between the two atoms. Nitrogen deficiency is especially problematic in the soils of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Low levels of N and other soil fertility problems have severe poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation consequences for SSA. The process by which atmospheric N2 is converted into N compounds that can be used by living things is called nitrogen fixation. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF or biofixation) offers an alternative or additional means to traditional nitrogen fixation to increase plant-available nitrogen. Through a symbiotic relationship, an N-fixing bacterium infects a plant (usually a legume) and forms nodules on the roots of the plant in which N fixation occurs. This literature review examines the expansion and benefits of BNF, the constraints to BNF adoption, BNF regulations, and success stories of developing and distributing BNF technologies worldwide. BNF technology can be an efficient and effective tool for decreasing environmental degradation and increasing soil fertility, yields, income, and food security in SSA, although many constraints to farmer adoption exist.
This report present a thorough review of relevant literature regarding labor constraints currently being faced in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The review focuses on the impacts of labor supply issues, particularly as they relate to the use of new technology and management techniques, off farm labor migration, and the impacts of HIV/AIDS. The review is provides a basic breakdown of the different kinds of agricultural labor in SSA, before presenting the evidence on the causes and impact of agricultural labor constraints. Though labor constraints can be relevant on both the demand and supply side, especially for certain groups such as women and youth, our review follows the literature by focusing on the supply side issues. The literature reviewed was written between 1990 and 2008, and includes a combination of reports from government organizations and highly cited journal articles.
Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring carcinogen produced by the fungus Aspergillus, particularly Aspergillus Flavus and Aspergillus Parasiticus. Aflatoxin contamination places an economic and health burden on farmers throughout the developing world, but reliable prevalence data are difficult to obtain. This report analyzes data from 25 primary research articles published within the last 15 years in order to provide a summary of aflatoxin contamination in the developing world. This report is divided into three parts, roughly aligning with phases of the agricultural value chain. Data for prevalence at the production and processing stage are presented first, followed by data for prevalence during storage, and finally by a summary of data for aflatoxin levels at consumption and point-of sale. We find maize and groundnuts to be the crops most affected by aflatoxin, while Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are the geographic areas most likely to be affected. Agroecological conditions including warm humid climates, irrigated hot deserts, and droughts contribute to aflatoxin contamination, and we find that contamination can occur throughout the value chain.
As our understanding of the impacts of hidden hunger on human nutrition grows, understanding the link between fertilizer use and human nutrition becomes increasingly important. This report presents an analysis of both grey and peer-reviewed literature on the effects of fertilizer use on nutritional quality of food, particularly the staples of maize, rice, wheat, cassava and legumes. We find that some nutrient deficiencies, such as zinc, can be effectively addressed through fertilizer use while others, such as iron deficiency, are more difficult to address. Promising breakthroughs with fortified and complete fertilizers present the opportunity to correct multiple deficiencies. Current fertilizer products exist that, when applied with the proper agronomic methods, can have a significant effect on nutrition in the developing world. However, it is important to recognize that there are many factors in the developing world that have the potential to inhibit the benefits of fertilizer for human nutrition. Two significant factors are poor farmers’ difficulty in procuring the correct product and the relative sophistication required to apply fertilizers at the correct amounts and time to achieve desired results. In addition, researchers have not focused on fertilizer and nutrition studies until recently, particularly micronutrient fertilizer studies, and few studies specifically study the impacts of fertilizer on human nutrition. More research needs to be done to understand the most effective combinations and techniques, and to understand whether these methods truly increase the amount of nutrients bioavailable to humans.