Types of Research
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This brief summarizes the literature on caloric and lipid deficiencies and their contribution to nutritional outcomes, and identifies key studies and pieces of literature related to this topic.
Water is a critical input for significantly enhancing smallholder farmer productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where less than 5% of farm land is irrigated, and in India where 42% of farm land is irrigated. For many years, donors have invested in human-powered treadle pump technologies as a point of entry for smallholder farmers unable to afford motorized pumps. In spite of some successes in treadle pump promotion, however, there is a widespread perception that as soon as smallholder farmers can afford to they quickly transition to motorized diesel- powered pumps. While diesel pumps substantially ease farmers’ workload, they pollute excessively (both in terms of local air quality and greenhouse gas emissions), pump excessive amounts of water, and put farmers at the mercy of cyclical spikes in fuel prices. This brief provides an overview of state-of-the-art alternative energy pumps, including technologies available and implementation lessons learned from China, India, Africa, South America and other regions. Through a literature review, written surveys and phone interviews with water pump producers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) we evaluate the availability, affordability, and adoption rates of alternative energy technologies in developing countries. Our findings suggest that no single alternative energy water pumping system is a “silver bullet” for rural smallholder irrigation needs. Biofuels may prove a successful short- to intermediate-term solution for farmers who already have access to diesel pumps, but other problems associated with diesel engines, including high maintenance costs and excessive water use remain even when biofuels are used. Solar systems eliminate pollution almost entirely, reduce water consumption, and eliminate the need to purchase fuels. However solar systems are typically prohibitively expensive for smallholder farmers. Wind powered pumping solutions have not proven successful to date, with high costs and irregular wind patterns (either too little or too much wind) proving substantial barriers to widespread adoption.
Cereals and pulses are important food and cash crops for farmers and rural households in Ethiopia. Despite the economic and food security importance of these crops, data and opinion suggest a yield gap: actual smallholder farm yields do not achieve estimated potential yields for wheat, sorghum, maize, lentils and peas. Furthermore, cereal prices in Ethiopia fall between import and export parity prices, limiting their international trading prospects. Although there are significant wheat imports, these reflect the influx of food aid, rather than competitive trade on the international market. The purpose of this brief is to estimate yield gaps in important Ethiopian crops in order to identify potential areas for productivity gains. We find that wheat, sorghum and maize all exhibit the potential for yield gains to increase domestic food availability. Additionally, all three crops experienced significant spikes in yield in the 2006 season. Further investigation into the climate conditions and policy in place that year may generate potential strategies to increase future yields. Analysis of Ethiopian lentil and pea yields suggest that productivity gains may be possible to increase food availability. Limited access to improved technologies appears to be the main constraint to pulse productivity in Ethiopia. Opportunities to increase lentil and pea yields appear to exist through increasing cultivation of improved varieties.
Without availability and access to a variety of foods, populations in the developing world are suffering from deficiencies in iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin A, and other micronutrients in addition to deficiencies in energy and protein. Supplementation and fortification programs have demonstrated effectiveness, but there is an increasing interest in potentially more sustainable solutions via agricultural interventions. The review examines the literature regarding agricultural interventions and pathways to diet diversification and whether desired nutritional outcomes are achieved. We find a strong sentiment that agricultural interventions can improve dietary diversity, and that dietary diversity can improve nutrition and related health outcomes. The programs with demonstrated ability to improve nutrition outcomes are most often cross-cutting interventions, borrowing from the agriculture, nutrition, and public health traditions. While these multi-platform programs can be costly to evaluate and difficult to implement, the evidence supports their potential to create sustainable quality-of-life improvements in target regions. The pathways by which agricultural interventions achieve impact are not fully clear, however. The greatest knowledge gaps are directly related to the lack of integration between program design and evaluation. Many evaluations are based on small sample sizes, lack control groups or baseline data, are subject to selection bias, or face other challenges to rigorous statistical analysis.
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.
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.
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.