Types of Research
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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.
Water supply and sanitation is the responsibility of sub-national state governments under the Indian Constitution. At present, the national government sets water supply and sanitation policy while states plan, design, and execute water supply schemes accordingly. Furthermore, while state governments are in charge of operation and maintenance, they may pass the responsibility to village or district levels. Given the highly decentralized provision of water and sanitation services, there is no autonomous regulatory agency for the water supply and sanitation sector in India at the state or national level. This report reviews literature on India’s urban sanitation policy. The methodology includes Google, Lexis-Nexis, and University of Washington Library searches, searches of two major Indian newspapers, and searches of websites and blogs sponsored by non-governmental organizations. Sources also include the India Sanitation Portal, a forum on sanitation in India used by governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and WASH Sanitation Updates, a sanitation news feed with considerable material on India. We find that urban sanitation policy, as embodied in the National Urban Sanitation Plan of 2008, remains focused on decentralized approaches. Our research reveals no evidence of a change in official policy, nor evidence suggesting that government sanitation programs conflict with official policy.
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.
The purpose of this literature review is to examine research and decision-making tools that model the impacts of agricultural interventions. We begin with a short explanation of what model features are being described. We then review decision-support tools and user-end modeling tools (menu-driven tools with an interface designed for easy use), as well as academic and professional research models for assessing the potential impacts of agricultural interventions. This review also includes decision tools and models for analyzing agricultural and environmental policies outside of technology impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The other tools mentioned here, for example a tool that considers nutritional intervention impacts, are included to help provide a broader understanding of the structure and availability of user-end, decision-making tools. In the final section of this brief, we review the most complex models used more in academic research than for in-field decision-making.
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.
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.