Types of Research
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.
Nigeria’s experience with fertilizer subsidy programs has been different than that of other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria is one of the only African countries capable of producing fertilizer domestically. But Nigeria is also large and densely populated. This makes national agricultural policy difficult due to logistical problems with implementation and the unique fertilizer needs of the various agro-ecological zones. This research brief discusses the effects of Nigeria’s input subsidy programs on maize production and fertilizer consumption. It focuses on the years 2000 to 2007, but also includes a discussion of Nigeria’s subsidy history from the early 1970s to 2009. Researchers have had difficulty studying Nigeria’s subsidy schemes due to a lack of data. In spite of decades of authoritarian, centralized leadership, Nigeria’s states have significant power to implement their own subsidies. This complicates any evaluation of a program’s effectiveness, in part due to the variety of subsidies at any given time, as well as inconsistent accounting practices.
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.
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.
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.