Types of Research
Recent research has used typologies to classify rural households into categories such as “subsistence” versus “commercialized” as a means of targeting agricultural development interventions and tracking agricultural transformation. Following an approach proposed by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, we examine patterns in two agricultural transformation hallmarks – commercialization of farm output, and diversification into non-farm income – among rural households in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania from 2008-2015. We classify households into five smallholder farm categories based on commercialization and non-farm income levels (Subsistence, Pre-commercial, Transitioning, Specialized Commercial, and Diversified Commercial farms), as well as two non-smallholder categories (Largeholder farms and Non-farm households). We then summarize the share of households in each of these categories, examine geographic and demographic factors associated with different categories, and explore households’ movement across categories over time. We find a large amount of “churn” across categories, with most households moving to a different (more or less commercialized, more or less diversified) category across survey years. We also find many non-farm households become smallholder farmers – and vice versa – over time. Finally, we show that in many cases increases in farm household commercialization or diversification rates actually reflect decreased total farm production, or decreased total income (i.e., declines in the denominators of the agricultural transformation metrics), suggesting a potential loss of rural household welfare even in the presence of “positive” trends in transformation indicators. Findings underscore challenges with using common macro-level indicators to target development efforts and track progress at the household level in rural agrarian communities.
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.
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.
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.
Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are generally defined as geographically delimited areas administered by a single body, offering certain incentives (duty-free importing and streamlined customs procedures, for instance) to businesses that physically locate within the zone. This literature review provides a baseline analysis of SEZs and their potential impacts on smallholder farmers in SSA. Criticism on SEZs is distinctly divided between those who criticize on social or environmental grounds versus those who question the economic impact of SEZs. SEZs are often criticized based on perceived negative socio-economic impacts—particularly their negative impact on women, labor, and working conditions. This review includes several country-specific studies that find evidence that SEZs actually have higher environmental standards and higher worker satisfaction than outside the SEZ. Most responses to criticisms do note, however, that the case studies’ results are not necessarily generalizable to SEZs throughout the world. The literature review includes key elements of successes and failures pulled from the case studies of SEZs in SSA. Though the evidence is insufficient to conclusively determine if smallholder farmers receive direct benefits from SEZs and their associated agroindustrial contracts, this review finds that resources provided to farmers (credit at rates lower than bank rates, technical or managerial assistance, pesticides, seeds, and fertilizer on credit) tend to be concentrated among larger farmers. The report concludes with a note on donor involvement as well as recommendations for further research.