Types of Research
This overview introduces a series of EPAR briefs in the Agriculture-Environment Series that examine crop-environment interactions for a range of crops in smallholder food production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). The briefs cover the following important food crops in those regions; rice (#208), maize (#218), sorghum/millets (#213), sweet potato/yam (#225), and cassava (#228).
Drawing on the academic literature and the field expertise of crop scientists, these briefs highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the crop value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing and tilling), production (such as water, nutrient and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal and crop storage). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on crop yields (including poor soils, water scarcity, crop pests) and impacts of crop production on the environment (such as soil erosion, water depletion and pest resistance). We then highlight best practices from the literature and from expert experience for minimizing negative environmental impacts in smallholder crop production systems.
This overview (along with the accompanying detailed crop briefs) seeks to provide a framework for stimulating across-crop discussions and informed debates on the full range of crop-environment interactions in agricultural development initiatives.
After cereals, root and tuber crops - including sweetpotato and yam (in addition to cassava and aroids), are the second most cultivated crops in tropical countries. This literature review examines the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, sweetpotato and yam production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). The review highlights crop-environment interactions at three stages of the sweetpotato/yam value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., soil, water, and input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal, crop storage and transport). We find that sweetpotato and yam face similar environmental stressors. In particular, because sweetpotato and yam are vegetatively propagated, the most significant (and avoidable) environmental constraints to crop yields include disease and pest infection transmitted through the use of contaminated planting materials. Published estimates suggest yield gains in the range of 30–60% can be obtained through using healthy planting material. Moreover, reducing pest damage in the field can greatly increase the storage life of root and tuber crops after harvest – currently losses from rot and desiccation can claim up to 100% of stored sweetpotato and yam on smallholder farms.
Maize has expanded through the 20th and into the 21st century to become the principle staple food crop produced and consumed by smallholder farm households in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and maize production has also expanded in South Asia (SA) farming systems. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder maize production systems in SSA and SA, noting where findings apply to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the maize value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., fertilizer, water, and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal and crop storage). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on maize production (such as poor soil quality, water scarcity, or crop pests) and also environmental impacts of maize production (such as soil erosion, water depletion, or chemical contamination). We then highlight best or good practices for overcoming environmental constraints and minimizing environmental impacts in smallholder maize production systems. Evidence on environmental constraints and impacts in smallholder maize production is uneven. Many environmental concerns such as biodiversity loss are commonly demonstrated more broadly for the agroecology or farming systems in which maize is grown, rather than specifically for the maize crop. And more research is available on the environmental impacts of agrochemical-based intensive cereal farming in Asia (where high-input maize is a common component) than on the low-input subsistence-scale maize cultivation more typical of SSA. Decisive constraint and impact estimates are further complicated by the fact that many crop-environment interactions in maize and other crops are a matter of both cause and effect (e.g., poor soils decrease maize yields, while repeated maize harvests degrade soils). Fully understanding maize-environment interactions thus requires recognizing instances where shortterm adaptations to environmental constraints might be exacerbating other medium- or long-term environmental problems. Conclusions on the strength of published findings on crop-environment interactions in maize systems further depend on one’s weighting of economic versus ecological perspectives, physical science versus social science, academic versus grey literature, and quantity versus quality of methods and findings.
In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder sorghum and millet production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). Millet in this paper primarily refers to pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), although a number of other millets of significance to smallholder production and food security are also discussed. Sorghum and millets are known for being more tolerant of major environmental stresses including drought and poor soil quality than other major cereals. But water availability is still among the greatest constraints to increased grain production, and soil fertility also significantly limits yields, especially in cases where cultivation occurs on marginal lands and where crop residues are removed for alternative uses. Ultimately sorghum and millets’ relatively higher tolerance to abiotic stresses is expected to promote an increase in global cropping area for sorghum and millets as an adaptation to climate change. Sorghum and millet exhibit relatively few of the environmental impacts commonly associated with more intensively cultivated crops such as fertilizer runoff, pesticide contamination, or water depletion, since both of these crops are overwhelmingly grown by smallholder farmers with few, if any, chemical or irrigation inputs. Nevertheless, the tendency to grow sorghum and millet on marginal and heavily sloped lands does pose some environmental risks – including soil degradation and erosion – that can be mitigated through the adoption of best practices as described in the brief.
Rice is the most important food crop of the developing world and is grown on over 155 million ha worldwide. Food security of the poor, especially in Asia, depends critically on rice availability at an affordable price. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder rice production systems in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), noting where the analysis applies to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the rice value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., water and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (e.g., poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil erosion, water depletion, pest resistance). We then highlight best or good practices for minimizing negative environmental impacts in smallholder rice production systems. Evidence on environmental issues in smallholder rice production is uneven. Far more research is available for Asian rice production systems, as compared to African rice systems. And with the possible exception of the evidence on water limits to increasing productivity, conclusions on the strength of published findings on crop-environment interactions in rice depends on one’s weighting of economic versus ecological perspectives, physical science versus social science, academic versus grey literature, and quantity versus quality of methods and findings.
This literature review examines the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, wheat production systems in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The review highlights crop-environment interactions at three stages of the wheat value chain: pre-production (e.g., land availability), production (e.g., heat, water, and soil), and post-production (e.g. storage, crop residues, and transport). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (e.g., poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests, etc.) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil degradation, water depletion and pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). We then highlight published best practices for overcoming environmental constraints and minimizing environmental impacts in wheat production systems. We find that wheat is a significant crop that will need to increase production to meet increasing demand. Most land suitable for wheat production is already under cultivation. Improved production methods are needed to address the demand and avert environmental impacts of producing wheat. It should not be assumed that improved varieties alone will be able to realistically address growing demands for wheat. Improved variety seeds should be combined with best practices of improved crop management techniques: optimal planting time, zero tillage, fertilizer management, intercropping, crop residue incorporation, and improved storage techniques.
Consumer attitudes are a key component in private sector market segmentation. Knowledge about consumers’ tastes can lead to better product design and more effective communication with target markets. Similarly, evidence suggests that farmers’ attitudes influence whether they adopt productivity-increasing technologies. Using consumer insights from the private sector, agricultural intervention programs can use market research, product development, and communication strategies to better understand farmers as consumers and best target interventions. This brief provides an overview of how farmers' attitudes affect their willingness to adopt new technology, and how knowledge of farmer attitudes can improve program design and implementation.
This desk study reports on the small-scale machinery sector in China and a selection of SSA countries: Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Uganda. The report is organized into three sections. Section 1 discusses the current state of small-scale agricultural machinery in SSA for crop and livestock production in each of the SSA countries identified. It also seeks to identify major areas of need in terms of agricultural mechanization and major constraints to agricultural machinery adoption, dissemination and maintenance. Section 2 focuses on the agricultural machinery sector in China and Chinese Africa relationships in agricultural development. It also identifies the major government players in the Chinese agricultural machinery sector. Section 3 is a “directory” of small-scale agricultural machinery manufactured in China with potential relevance for SSA smallholder farmers. We divide machines by function (e.g. threshing) although many Chinese machines are multi-function and can serve multiple purposes. We also note applicable crops, if listed by the manufacturers, and technical specifications as available.
This brief explores how two datasets – The Tanzania National Panel Survey (TZNPS) and the TNS-Research International Farmer Focus (FF) – predict the determinants of inorganic fertilizer use among smallholder farmers in Tanzania by using regression analysis. The (TZNPS) was implemented by the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics, with support from the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) team and includes extensive information on crop productivity and input use. The FF survey was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by TNS Research International and focuses on the on the behaviors and attitudes of smallholder farmers in Tanzania. The two datasets produce relatively comparable results for the primary predictors of inorganic fertilizer use: agricultural extension and whether or not a household grows cash crops. However, other factors influencing input use produce results that vary in magnitude and direction of the effect across the two datasets. Distinct survey instrument designs make it difficult to test the robustness of the models on input use other than inorganic fertilizer. This brief uses data inorganic fertilizer use, rather than adoption per se. The TZNPS did not ask households how recently they began using a certain product and although the FF survey asked respondents how many new inputs were tried in the past four planting seasons, they did not ask specifically about inorganic fertilizer.
This report investigates the potential environmental and socio-economic benefits and costs of glyphosate resistant cassava. Glyphosate resistant crops (also referred to as glyphosate tolerant) have been rapidly adopted by a number of crop producers because they simplify and/or reduce the cost of weed management. Glyphosate resistant crops also provide external environmental benefits by promoting reduced tillage agriculture, decreasing erosion and increasing soil health. However, glyphosate resistant crops also have some environmental costs, potentially leading to increased use of herbicides and environmental contamination. Because transgenic glyphosate resistant cassava is not currently in use, literature on its potential environmental and socioeconomic costs and benefits is limited. Therefore, this report draws on the literature for glyphosate resistant crops that are in current use, including maize, soybeans, sugar beets and canola (rapeseed). We find that socioeconomic and environmental impacts of glyphosate resistant crops differ by crop-type, agroecological conditions, production systems and local regulatory structure. Therefore, some benefits and costs associated with other glyphosate resistant crops may not be applicable to glyphosate resistant cassava.