Types of Research
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.
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.
Estimates suggest that women grow 70-80 percent of Africa’s food crops, which may constrain their involvement in cash crop production, if food crop production places additional demands their time, resources and labor. There is little evidence regarding women’s motivations or decisions to grow cash versus food crops. Similarly, the policy literature on cotton production and markets in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) does not explicitly address the issue of gender, further limiting the information available on the impact of cotton production on women. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in cotton production, and provides a framework for analyzing barriers to women and technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that women are typically not the primary cultivators of cotton, and that cotton production is a household cultivation strategy, especially in West and Central Africa. Cotton cultivation often provides access to fertilizers, pesticides and extension services that are otherwise unavailable to households. Women have benefitted from household cotton income when they have input in intra-household resource allocation decisions or when they are able to grow cotton on personal plots and have control over the income it generates. Women also benefit from cotton when it offers them the opportunity to engage in paid labor. The data suggests, however, that cotton cultivation can negatively impact women when it increases their unpaid agricultural labor burden or exposes them to harmful chemicals.
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.
As our understanding of the impacts of hidden hunger on human nutrition grows, understanding the link between fertilizer use and human nutrition becomes increasingly important. This report presents an analysis of both grey and peer-reviewed literature on the effects of fertilizer use on nutritional quality of food, particularly the staples of maize, rice, wheat, cassava and legumes. We find that some nutrient deficiencies, such as zinc, can be effectively addressed through fertilizer use while others, such as iron deficiency, are more difficult to address. Promising breakthroughs with fortified and complete fertilizers present the opportunity to correct multiple deficiencies. Current fertilizer products exist that, when applied with the proper agronomic methods, can have a significant effect on nutrition in the developing world. However, it is important to recognize that there are many factors in the developing world that have the potential to inhibit the benefits of fertilizer for human nutrition. Two significant factors are poor farmers’ difficulty in procuring the correct product and the relative sophistication required to apply fertilizers at the correct amounts and time to achieve desired results. In addition, researchers have not focused on fertilizer and nutrition studies until recently, particularly micronutrient fertilizer studies, and few studies specifically study the impacts of fertilizer on human nutrition. More research needs to be done to understand the most effective combinations and techniques, and to understand whether these methods truly increase the amount of nutrients bioavailable to humans.