Research Topics

EPAR Technical Report #65
Publication Date: 03/17/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, such as provisioning of fresh water, food, feed, fiber, biodiversity, energy, and nutrient cycling. Agricultural production can substantially affect the functioning of ecosystems, both positively and negatively. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the impacts of agricultural technologies and practices on ecosystem services such as soil fertility, water, biodiversity, air, and climate. The report describes the environmental impacts of different aspects of intensive cropping practices and of inputs associated with intensification. We further explore these impacts by examining intensive rice systems and industrial crop processing. Although this report focuses on the impacts of agricultural practices on the environment, many of the practices also have implications for plant, animal, and human health. Farmers and others who come in contact with air, water, and soils polluted by chemical fertilizers and pesticides may face negative health consequences, for instance. By impacting components of the ecosystem, these practices affect the health of plants and animals living within the ecosystem. We find that the unintended environmental consequences of intensive agricultural practices and inputs are varied and potentially severe. In some cases, sustaining or increasing agricultural productivity depends upon reducing impacts to the environment, such as maintaining productive soils by avoiding salinization from irrigation water. However, in other cases, eliminating negative environmental impacts may involve unacceptable trade-offs with food provision or other development goals. Determining the appropriate balance of costs and benefits from intensive agricultural practices is a location-specific exercise requiring knowledge of natural, economic, and social conditions. 

EPAR Research Brief #67
Publication Date: 03/08/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Contract farming (CF) is an arrangement between farmers and a processing or marketing firm for the production and supply of agricultural products, often at predetermined prices. This literature review builds on EPAR's review of smallholder contract farming in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (EPAR Technical Report #60)  by specifically examining the evidence on impacts and potential benefits of contract farming for women in SSA. Key takeaways suggest women’s direct participation in contract farming is limited, with limited access to land and control over the allocation of labor and cash resources key constraints hindering women’s ability to benefit from CF. Further, we find that the impact of contract farming on women is often mediated by their relative bargaining power within the household.  

EPAR Research Brief #64
Publication Date: 03/03/2010
Type: Research Brief
Abstract

Introducing technology that is designed to be physically appropriate and valuable to women farmers can increase yields and raise income. But gender issues for agricultural technology projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are extremely complex. The EPAR series on Gender and Cropping in SSA offers examples of how these issues can affect crop production and adoption of agricultural technologies at each point in the crop cycle for eight crops (cassava, cotton, maize, millet, rice, sorghum, wheat, and yam). This executive summary highlights innovative opportunities for interventions that consider these dimensions of gender. We encourage readers to consult the crop specific briefs for more details. We find that involving both men and women in the development, testing, and dissemination of agricultural technology has been shown to be successful in helping both benefit. Nevertheless, a consistent finding throughout the Gender and Cropping in SSA series is that maximum benefits from technological innovations cannot be realized when upstream factors like education, power, and land tenure heavily influence outcomes. Addressing these more basic upstream causes of gender inequality may be even more important in helping households increase productivity and maximize the benefits of technological interventions. 

EPAR Research Brief #66
Publication Date: 02/23/2010
Type: Research Brief
Abstract

This report presents data on selected agricultural commodities for the fourth quarter of 2009 (October through December 2009) and the months of January and February 2010, where available. More specifically, this report provides a summary of recent changes and trends in prices, demand, supply, and market conditions for key agricultural commodities. We find that agricultural commodity prices declined significantly in 2009 from peak 2008 levels. At the end of 2009, however, commodity prices began to rebound, which contributed to concerns over a possible return to high prices. In January and February, gains in the value of the U.S. Dollar helped keep agricultural commodity prices subdued.

EPAR Technical Report #57
Publication Date: 02/12/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This literature review provides a summary of the risks that potentially limit private sector agribusiness investment in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and some responses to those risks. The report reviews risks that limit private sector investment and interventions used to mitigate risk to agricultural investment including government policy, international financial institutions, philanthropic efforts and other private initiatives. Risk is defined as a potential negative impact to assets, investments, or profitability of investments in the agricultural industry that may arise from some present process or future event. There is currently limited information examining how particular risk factors influence private-sector agribusiness investment in the region. However, the information that is available suggests that economic and political instability are among the most significant risks to agribusiness investors in SSA. Further, the literature notes that agricultural risks in SSA are particularly pronounced due to environmental risks that contribute to unreliable cash flows and uncertain profitability. We find that these risk factors are compounded by a lack of data and information for investors to use in assessing and pricing risks appropriately. 

EPAR Research Brief #33
Publication Date: 01/19/2010
Type: Research Brief
Abstract

A widely quoted estimate is that women produce 70 to 80 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) food. Increasing farmer productivity in SSA therefore requires understanding how these women make planting, harvesting, and other decisions that affect the production, consumption, and marketing of their crops. This brief provides an overview of the gender cropping series highlighting similar themes from the various crops studied, presenting an overarching summary of the findings and conclusion of the individual literature reviews. The studies reviewed suggest that differential preferences and access to assets by men and women can affect adoption levels and the benefits that accrue to men and women. Findings show that women have less secure access to credit, land, inputs, extension, and markets. Similarly, women’s multi-faceted role in household management gives rise to preferences that may very well be different from those of men. Participatory Breeding and Participatory Varietal Selection are two methods shown to be successful in developing technology that is more appropriate and more likely to avoid unintended consequences. Regularly collecting gender-disaggregated statistics can also result in a greater understanding of how technology has affected both men and women. Agricultural technology has the potential to enhance both men’s and women’s welfare and productivity, but unless gender is sufficiently integrated into every step of the development and dissemination process, efforts will only achieve a fraction of their total possible benefit.

EPAR Research Brief #55
Publication Date: 01/18/2010
Type: Research Brief
Abstract

Estimates suggest that women grow 70-80 percent of Africa’s food crops, which may constrain their involvement in cash crop production, if food crop production places additional demands their time, resources and labor.  There is little evidence regarding women’s motivations or decisions to grow cash versus food crops. Similarly, the policy literature on cotton production and markets in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) does not explicitly address the issue of gender, further limiting the information available on the impact of cotton production on women. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in cotton production, and provides a framework for analyzing barriers to women and technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that women are typically not the primary cultivators of cotton, and that cotton production is a household cultivation strategy, especially in West and Central Africa. Cotton cultivation often provides access to fertilizers, pesticides and extension services that are otherwise unavailable to households. Women have benefitted from household cotton income when they have input in intra-household resource allocation decisions or when they are able to grow cotton on personal plots and have control over the income it generates. Women also benefit from cotton when it offers them the opportunity to engage in paid labor. The data suggests, however, that cotton cultivation can negatively impact women when it increases their unpaid agricultural labor burden or exposes them to harmful chemicals. 

EPAR Technical Report #54
Publication Date: 01/06/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Over the past several decades, donors, multilateral organizations and governments have invested substantial resources in developing and disseminating improved varieties of sorghum and millet in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Researchers believe that sorghum and millet have the ability to improve food security and mitigate the influence of climate change on food production for some of the most vulnerable populations. As a result, agricultural scientists have focused on developing improved cultivars to increase the relative benefits of these two crops and disseminate this technology to a larger number of farmers. This report provides an overview of the development and dissemination of improved sorghum and millet cultivars, factors that influence the adoption of improved cultivars among farmers in SSA, and examples of interventions designed to encourage adoption in SSA. We find that while national governments and international research institutes have successfully developed a number of improved sorghum and millet cultivars, adoption rates in SSA (particularly in West and Central Africa) are low. The literature suggests that overall efforts have increased adoption rates, but at varying costs.

EPAR Research Brief #53
Publication Date: 12/02/2009
Type: Research Brief
Abstract

This report presents data on selected agricultural commodities for the second and third quarter of 2009 (April-September 2009) and the month of October, where available. More specifically, this report provides a summary of recent changes and trends in agricultural commodities markets. This summary is followed by an analysis of prices, demand, supply, and market conditions for key agricultural commodities. We find that agricultural commodity prices in 2009 have thus far decreased significantly from 2008 peak levels. While agricultural commodity prices remain subdued, the prices of some commodities including cocoa, coffee and maize have risen recently. An addendum to the Quarterly Commodity Price Update from April-October 2009 presents an overview of price data and recent trends in cotton, dairy, and international wheat commodity markets. Speculators note that fluctuations in the U.S. dollar, growing world demand, and uncertainty over the pace of global economic recovery have influenced agricultural commodities.

EPAR Research Brief #75
Publication Date: 11/02/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.