Types of Research
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In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable to climatic changes, and the observed shocks and stresses associated with these changes impact agricultural systems in many ways. This research brief offers findings on observed or measured changes in precipitation, temperature or both, on five biophysical pathways and systems including variable or changing growing seasons, extreme events, biotic stressors, plant species density, richness and range, impacts to streamflow, and impacts on crop yield. These findings are the result of a review of relevant documents cited in Kilroy (2015), references included in the IPCC draft Special Report on Food Security, and targeted searches from 2015 - present for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Studies of improved seed adoption in developing countries almost always draw from household surveys and are premised on the assumption that farmers are able to self-report their use of improved seed varieties. However, recent studies suggest that farmers’ reports of the seed varieties planted, or even whether seed is local or improved, are sometimes inconsistent with the results of DNA fingerprinting of farmers' crops. We use household survey data from Tanzania to test the alignment between farmer-reported and DNA-identified maize seed types planted in fields. In the sample, 70% of maize seed observations are correctly reported as local or improved, while 16% are type I errors (falsely reported as improved) and 14% are type II errors (falsely reported as local). Type I errors are more likely to have been sourced from other farmers, rather than formal channels. An analysis of input use, including seed, fertilizer, and labor allocations, reveals that farmers tend to treat improved maize differently, depending on whether they correctly perceive it as improved. This suggests that errors in farmers' seed type awareness may translate into suboptimal management practices. In econometric analysis, the measured yield benefit of improved seed use is smaller in magnitude with a DNA-derived categorization, as compared with farmer reports. The greatest yield benefit is with correctly identified improved seed. This indicates that investments in farmers' access to information, seed labeling, and seed system oversight are needed to complement investments in seed variety development.
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.
Ecological farming and conventional farming are two approaches to producing food. The term “ecological farming” describes a range of agricultural systems that seek to provide food and environmental and social benefits by using natural processes and local resources rather than off-farm, purchased inputs (commonly referred to as “external inputs”). Recent debate about the merits of ecological farming over conventional methods has centered on each system’s ability to increase production in the context of numerous and varied biophysical and social constraints. A review of the literature suggests that ecological farming can offer some benefits to smallholder farmers, but that specific approaches must be tailored to local climate and soil conditions and availability of labor, training, and organic inputs.
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.
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.
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.
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.