Types of Research
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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.
Household survey data are a key source of information for policy-makers at all levels. In developing countries, household data are commonly used to target interventions and evaluate progress towards development goals. The World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) are a particularly rich source of nationally-representative panel data for six Sub-Saharan African countries: Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. To help understand how these data are used, EPAR reviewed the existing literature referencing the LSMS-ISA and identified 415 publications, working papers, reports, and presentations with primary research based on LSMS-ISA data. We find that use of the LSMS-ISA has been increasing each year since the first survey waves were made available in 2009, with several universities, multilateral organizations, government offices, and research groups across the globe using the data to answer questions on agricultural productivity, farm management, poverty and welfare, nutrition, and several other topics.
This brief reviews the evidence of realized yield gains by smallholder farmers attributable to the use of high-quality seed and/or improved seed varieties. Our analysis suggests that in most cases, use of improved varieties and/or quality seed is associated with modest yield increases. In the sample of 395 trials reviewed, positive yield changes accompanied the use of improved variety or quality seed, on average, in 10 out of 12 crops, with rice and cassava as the two exceptions.
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.
In recent years, product supply chains for agricultural goods have become increasingly globalized. As a result, greater numbers of smallholder farmers in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) participate in global supply chains, many of them through contract farming (CF). CF is an arrangement between a farmer and a processing or marketing firm for the production and supply of agricultural products, often at predetermined prices. This literature review finds empirical evidence that demonstrates that the economic and social benefits of CF for smallholder farmers are mixed. A number of studies suggest that CF may improve farmer productivity, reduce production risk and transaction costs, and increase farmer incomes. However, critics caution that CF may undermine farmers’ relative bargaining power and increase health, environmental, and financial risk through exposure to monopsonistic markets, weak contract environments, and unfamiliar agricultural technologies. There is consensus across the literature that CF has the best outcomes for farmers when farmers have more bargaining power to negotiate the terms of the contract. In reviewing the literature on CF, we find a number of challenges to comparing studies and evaluating outcomes across contracts. This literature review summarizes empirical findings and analyses regarding contract models and best practices to increase farmers’ bargaining power and decrease contract default.
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.
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.
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.
As a source of employment for over 20 million Sub-Saharan African (SSA) farmers and the fastest-growing food source in Africa, rice plays a vital role in African economies and daily life. Women play a substantial role in SSA rice production and rely heavily on the income it generates. Not recognizing this role has often resulted in development and research projects failing to address women’s well-being and also failing to achieve project and development goals. Female farmers in SSA have been less likely than male farmers to adopt productivity-enhancing rice technologies such as improved seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, or small machinery, even when those technologies are designed specifically to help women. A more complete understanding of the dynamics and diversity of gender roles in rice farming is necessary to improve the likelihood of successful interventions. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in rice production, and provides a framework for analyzing technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that labor constraints, low education levels, cultural inappropriateness, and asymmetric access to resources all contribute to low adoption of rice technology by women. In order to fully realize the poverty reduction benefits of increased rice production in SSA, evidence suggests that research and extension programs must consider how interventions will affect women along every stage of the production chain. The effect on women and their households will vary depending on region, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and role in cultivating rice.
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.