Types of Research
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.
This presentation reviews and presents definitions and theories around incorporating sustainability into agricultural productivity. We review ecological, social, and economic sustainability and examine agricultural productivity through the lenses of nutrition, gender, environment, and climate change. The annotated bibliography identifies critical work from academic literature to aid in defining sustainable agricultural productivity. The methodology to generate these reports included searching the University of Washington Libraries system, Google Scholar, the University of Minnesota’s AgEcon Search, as well as the websites of the FAO, World Bank, and CGIAR. We also reviewed the most recent (2010) publications of the Handbook of Agricultural Economics and the Handbook of Development Economics.
Researchers expect that agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will experience major impacts from climate change, leaving the already food-insecure region subject to the largest contractions of agricultural incomes and food availability. As part of the Crops & Climate Change series, this brief presents an evaluation of the importance of maize in SSA, a novel analysis of historical and projected climate conditions in maize-growing regions, and a summary of current resources dedicated to maize adaptation. Overall, this analysis indicates that the importance of maize as a food crop remains high throughout SSA. Significant portions of maize-growing SSA will face climate conditions outside the range of country- and continent-level historical precedent. Rising temperatures and changes in precipitation are predicted, and reductions in maize yield and production will likely follow. Resources intended to aid adaptation to climate change flow primarily from public sector research and development efforts. Country-level adaptation strategies are often hampered by lack of funding and insufficient institutional capacity. Strategies for adaptation include improved agricultural practices and technology as well as infrastructure and program investments to absorb the impacts of climate change.
Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to experience major impacts from climate change, leaving the already food-insecure region subject to the largest contractions of agricultural incomes and food availability. As part of the Crops & Climate Change series, this brief presents an evaluation of the importance of rice in SSA, a novel analysis of historical and projected climate conditions in rice-growing regions in relation to rice's agronomic requirements, and a summary of current resources dedicated to rice. This three-pillared approach serves to identify gaps in resources dedicated to rice productivity in SSA in light of the crop’s resilience to projected changes in climate and increasing importance in the region’s food security. Overall, this analysis indicates that the importance of rice in SSA is increasing even as climate change is projected to have significant effects on the temperature in rice-growing regions. The current resources dedicated to rice research and dissemination of improved methods are insufficient to meet Africa’s rice production needs, and may not reflect the importance of the crop for the region’s food security under the future projected climate.
Limited sanitation infrastructure, poor hygienic practices, and unsafe drinking water negatively affect the health of millions of people in the developing world. Using sanitation interventions to interrupt disease pathways can significantly improve public health. Sanitation interventions primarily benefit public health by reducing the prevalence of enteric pathogenic illnesses, which cause diarrhea. Health benefits are realized and accrue to the direct recipients of sanitation interventions and also to their neighbors and others in their communities. In a report to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Hutton et al. (2006) estimate that the cost-benefit ratio of sanitation interventions in all developing countries worldwide is 11.2. This literature review summarizes the risks of inadequate sanitation to public health and presents the empirical evidence on the public health benefits of complete, intermediate and multiple factor sanitation interventions. We find that complete or improved sanitary systems can offer concrete public health benefits by reducing exposure pathways to a variety of infectious diseases contained in human feces and wastewater. Substantial complementary economic gains are also predicted to accrue as a result of providing increased sanitation. In addition, community-wide sanitation interventions seem to offer the greatest promise for reducing pathogenic health risks from feces.
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.
Introducing technology that is designed to be physically appropriate and valuable to women farmers can increase yields and raise income. But gender issues for agricultural technology projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are extremely complex. The EPAR series on Gender and Cropping in SSA offers examples of how these issues can affect crop production and adoption of agricultural technologies at each point in the crop cycle for eight crops (cassava, cotton, maize, millet, rice, sorghum, wheat, and yam). This executive summary highlights innovative opportunities for interventions that consider these dimensions of gender. We encourage readers to consult the crop specific briefs for more details. We find that involving both men and women in the development, testing, and dissemination of agricultural technology has been shown to be successful in helping both benefit. Nevertheless, a consistent finding throughout the Gender and Cropping in SSA series is that maximum benefits from technological innovations cannot be realized when upstream factors like education, power, and land tenure heavily influence outcomes. Addressing these more basic upstream causes of gender inequality may be even more important in helping households increase productivity and maximize the benefits of technological interventions.
A widely quoted estimate is that women produce 70 to 80 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) food. Increasing farmer productivity in SSA therefore requires understanding how these women make planting, harvesting, and other decisions that affect the production, consumption, and marketing of their crops. This brief provides an overview of the gender cropping series highlighting similar themes from the various crops studied, presenting an overarching summary of the findings and conclusion of the individual literature reviews. The studies reviewed suggest that differential preferences and access to assets by men and women can affect adoption levels and the benefits that accrue to men and women. Findings show that women have less secure access to credit, land, inputs, extension, and markets. Similarly, women’s multi-faceted role in household management gives rise to preferences that may very well be different from those of men. Participatory Breeding and Participatory Varietal Selection are two methods shown to be successful in developing technology that is more appropriate and more likely to avoid unintended consequences. Regularly collecting gender-disaggregated statistics can also result in a greater understanding of how technology has affected both men and women. Agricultural technology has the potential to enhance both men’s and women’s welfare and productivity, but unless gender is sufficiently integrated into every step of the development and dissemination process, efforts will only achieve a fraction of their total possible benefit.