Types of Research
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Cereal yield variability is influenced by initial conditions such as suitability of the farming system for cereal cultivation, current production quantities and yields, and zone-specific potential yields limited by water availability. However, exogenous factors such as national policies, climate, and international market conditions also impact farm-level yields directly or provide incentives or disincentives for farmers to intensify production. We conduct a selective literature review of policy-related drivers of maize yields in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and pair the findings with FAOSTAT data on yield and productivity. This report presents our cumulative findings along with contextual evidence of the hypothesized drivers behind maize yield trends over the past 20 years for the focus countries.
This report reviews and summarizes the existing evidence on the impact of access to financial services/products on measures of production, income and wealth, consumption and food security, and resilience for smallholder farmers and other rural customers and their households in Sub-Saharan Africa. This study covers four main types of financial products/services: 1) credit; 2) savings; 3) insurance; 4) transactional products. We also review the very limited evidence on the effectiveness of bundling these products/services together and of combining them with other offerings such as trainings or support for access to markets, and of providing them via digital channels. We note when financial products/services have been specifically designed to serve the needs of rural customers or smallholder farmers, since the needs of these groups are often very different from those of other stakeholders.
Common estimates of agricultural productivity rely upon crude measures of crop yield, typically defined as the weight harvested of a crop divided by the area harvested. But this common yield measure poorly reflects performance among farm systems combining multiple crops in one area (e.g., intercropping), and also ignores the possibility that farmers might lose crop area between planting and harvest (e.g., partial crop failure). Drawing on detailed plot-level data from Tanzania’s National Panel Survey, our research contrasts measures of smallholder productivity using production per hectare harvested and production per hectare planted.
An initial analysis (Research Brief - Rice Productivity Measurement) looking at rice production finds that yield by area planted differs significantly from yield by area harvested, particularly for smaller farms and female-headed households. OLS regression further reveals different demographic and management-related drivers of variability in yield gains – and thus different implications for policy and development interventions – depending on the yield measurement used. Findings suggest a need to better specify “yield” to more effectively guide agricultural development efforts.
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.
A farmer’s decision of how much land to dedicate to each crop reflects their farming options at the extensive and intensive margins. The extensive margin represents the total amount of agricultural land area that a farmer has available in a given year (referred to interchangeably as ‘farm size’ or ‘agricultural land’). A farmer increases land use on the extensive margin by planting on new agricultural land. The intensive margin represents area planted of crops as a proportion of total farm size. A farmer increases the intensive margin by increasing output within a fixed area. This analysis examines cropping patterns for households in Tanzania between 2008 and 2010 using data from the Tanzania National Panel Survey (TZNPS). This brief describes changes in farm size, total area planted, and area planted of select annual crops to highlight the dynamic nature of farmer’s cropping choices for a sample population of 2,246 agricultural households that reported having any agricultural land in 2008 or 2010. Throughout the brief, we present summary statistics at the national level and compare them with household-level data to show how results vary depending on how the sub-population is defined and how average measures can mask household level changes. We analyze these questions in the context of smallholders (defined as households with total agricultural land area as less than two hectares) and farming systems.
Cassava production is prone to many constraints throughout the production cycle, including biotic, abiotic, and management constraints. This brief reviews the literature on the production impacts of two key cassava stressors: cassava bacterial blight (CBB) and postharvest physiological deterioration (PPD). We summarize available estimates of the frequency and magnitude of these constraints relative to other drivers of cassava production losses that affect smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), review the control strategies proposed in the literature, report on the views of several experts in the field, and identify research gaps where relatively little appears to be known about CBB or PPD yield impacts or best practices for CBB or PPD management.
This report reviews the literature on textural attributes of Root, Tuber, and Banana (RTB) crops with a focus on studies relevant for crop research and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. The texture of cooked root and tuber crops is often cited as a primary determinant of consumer acceptability of new varieties, including those produced through traditional breeding and through genetic engineering. Evidence from texture-related consumer preferences studies for the RTB crops tropical yam, sweetpotato, banana/plantain, cassava, and potato, as well as the results of physicochemical and genetic studies detailing the current scientific understanding of drivers of textural traits, is reviewed and synthesized.
The FAO defines a farming system as “a population of individual farm systems that have broadly similar resource bases, enterprise patterns, household livelihoods and constraints, and for which similar development strategies and interventions would be appropriate. Depending on the scale of the analysis, a farming system can encompass a few dozen or many millions of households.” We use the farming systems as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for Sub-Saharan Africa. The FAO identifies eight main farming systems in Tanzania 1) maize mixed, 2) root crop, 3) coastal artisanal fishing, 4) highland perennial, 5) agro-pastoral millet/sorghum, 6) tree crop, 7) highland temperate mixed, and 8) pastoral. This analysis uses data from the Tanzanian National Panel Survey (TZNPS) LSMS – ISA to provide a comparison of farming systems throughout Tanzania. The TZNPS is a nationally-representative panel survey that includes households from seven of the eight FAO farming systems with only the smallest farming system, pastoral, lacking any representation.
After cereals, root and tuber crops - including sweetpotato and yam (in addition to cassava and aroids), are the second most cultivated crops in tropical countries. This literature review examines the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, sweetpotato and yam production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). The review highlights crop-environment interactions at three stages of the sweetpotato/yam value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., soil, water, and input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal, crop storage and transport). We find that sweetpotato and yam face similar environmental stressors. In particular, because sweetpotato and yam are vegetatively propagated, the most significant (and avoidable) environmental constraints to crop yields include disease and pest infection transmitted through the use of contaminated planting materials. Published estimates suggest yield gains in the range of 30–60% can be obtained through using healthy planting material. Moreover, reducing pest damage in the field can greatly increase the storage life of root and tuber crops after harvest – currently losses from rot and desiccation can claim up to 100% of stored sweetpotato and yam on smallholder farms.
Maize has expanded through the 20th and into the 21st century to become the principle staple food crop produced and consumed by smallholder farm households in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and maize production has also expanded in South Asia (SA) farming systems. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder maize production systems in SSA and SA, noting where findings apply to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the maize value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., fertilizer, water, and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal and crop storage). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on maize production (such as poor soil quality, water scarcity, or crop pests) and also environmental impacts of maize production (such as soil erosion, water depletion, or chemical contamination). We then highlight best or good practices for overcoming environmental constraints and minimizing environmental impacts in smallholder maize production systems. Evidence on environmental constraints and impacts in smallholder maize production is uneven. Many environmental concerns such as biodiversity loss are commonly demonstrated more broadly for the agroecology or farming systems in which maize is grown, rather than specifically for the maize crop. And more research is available on the environmental impacts of agrochemical-based intensive cereal farming in Asia (where high-input maize is a common component) than on the low-input subsistence-scale maize cultivation more typical of SSA. Decisive constraint and impact estimates are further complicated by the fact that many crop-environment interactions in maize and other crops are a matter of both cause and effect (e.g., poor soils decrease maize yields, while repeated maize harvests degrade soils). Fully understanding maize-environment interactions thus requires recognizing instances where shortterm adaptations to environmental constraints might be exacerbating other medium- or long-term environmental problems. Conclusions on the strength of published findings on crop-environment interactions in maize systems further depend on one’s weighting of economic versus ecological perspectives, physical science versus social science, academic versus grey literature, and quantity versus quality of methods and findings.