Types of Research
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.
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.
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.