Research Topics

EPAR Research Brief #225
Publication Date: 10/15/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #215
Publication Date: 08/31/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #213
Publication Date: 08/31/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

 In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder sorghum and millet production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). Millet in this paper primarily refers to pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), although a number of other millets of significance to smallholder production and food security are also discussed. Sorghum and millets are known for being more tolerant of major environmental stresses including drought and poor soil quality than other major cereals. But water availability is still among the greatest constraints to increased grain production, and soil fertility also significantly limits yields, especially in cases where cultivation occurs on marginal lands and where crop residues are removed for alternative uses. Ultimately sorghum and millets’ relatively higher tolerance to abiotic stresses is expected to promote an increase in global cropping area for sorghum and millets as an adaptation to climate change. Sorghum and millet exhibit relatively few of the environmental impacts commonly associated with more intensively cultivated crops such as fertilizer runoff, pesticide contamination, or water depletion, since both of these crops are overwhelmingly grown by smallholder farmers with few, if any, chemical or irrigation inputs. Nevertheless, the tendency to grow sorghum and millet on marginal and heavily sloped lands does pose some environmental risks – including soil degradation and erosion – that can be mitigated through the adoption of best practices as described in the brief. 

EPAR Research Brief #208
Publication Date: 05/01/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Rice is the most important food crop of the developing world and is grown on over 155 million ha worldwide. Food security of the poor, especially in Asia, depends critically on rice availability at an affordable price. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder rice production systems in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), noting where the analysis applies to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the rice value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., water and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (e.g., poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil erosion, water depletion, pest resistance). We then highlight best or good practices for minimizing negative environmental impacts in smallholder rice production systems. Evidence on environmental issues in smallholder rice production is uneven. Far more research is available for Asian rice production systems, as compared to African rice systems. And with the possible exception of the evidence on water limits to increasing productivity, conclusions on the strength of published findings on crop-environment interactions in rice depends 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.

EPAR Research Brief #212
Publication Date: 03/05/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This literature review examines the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, wheat production systems in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The review highlights crop-environment interactions at three stages of the wheat value chain: pre-production (e.g., land availability), production (e.g., heat, water, and soil), and post-production (e.g. storage, crop residues, and transport). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (e.g., poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests, etc.) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil degradation, water depletion and pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). We then highlight published best practices for overcoming environmental constraints and minimizing environmental impacts in wheat production systems. We find that wheat is a significant crop that will need to increase production to meet increasing demand. Most land suitable for wheat production is already under cultivation. Improved production methods are needed to address the demand and avert environmental impacts of producing wheat.  It should not be assumed that improved varieties alone will be able to realistically address growing demands for wheat. Improved variety seeds should be combined with best practices of improved crop management techniques: optimal planting time, zero tillage, fertilizer management, intercropping, crop residue incorporation, and improved storage techniques.

EPAR Research Brief #158
Publication Date: 08/03/2011
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This literature review examines the environmental impacts of water buffalo in pastoral and mixed farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and South America). The environmental impacts of water buffalo are less widely studied than those of the other livestock species included in this series; typically, the environmental impacts of water buffalo are incorporated into discussions of cattle without more detailed impacts being broken down by bovine type. In Asia and India, where the majority of buffalo are raised, buffalo are typically kept in small herds of only a few animals, which may minimize the local impacts of their grazing on vegetation, soil erosion and water pollution. Some aspects of buffalo feeding and life cycle patterns, as observed in the Amazon, may cause their greenhouse gas emissions to differ from those of cattle: buffalo can fatten on a wider range of grasses, reach market size in a shorter time, transition better from dry to wet seasons, and are more resistant to bovine diseases. While buffalo grazing and trampling can lead to land degradation, buffalo can contribute to nutrient and resource cycling in farming systems because their manure is considered good fertilizer and they can remove and utilize biomass grown on agricultural plots. Mitigation strategies vary by category of environmental impact, but largely suggest improved productivity to reduce land conversion, modified management systems (e.g., biodiversity, water use and consumption, farm and pastures, and waste), and the reduction of livestock numbers altogether.

EPAR Research Brief #155
Publication Date: 07/31/2011
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This literature review examines the environmental impacts of cattle in pastoral and mixed farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Cattle are frequently cited as having the most severe overall environmental impacts among livestock species due to: methane and nitrous oxide released from digestion and manure; land use and conversion; desertification; inefficient ratio of weight of feed and water consumed to weight of meat and dairy produced; conflicts between livestock herders and wildlife; the large volume of wastewater produced in meat and hide processing; and overgrazing of riparian areas. However, cattle have also been found to provide several environmental benefits such as keeping wildlife corridors open, preventing the spread of noxious weeds, and promoting the growth of local vegetative species. Mitigation strategies vary by category of environmental impact, but largely suggest improved productivity to reduce land conversion, modified management systems (e.g., biodiversity, water use and consumption, farm and pastures, grain and other feed, and waste), and the reduction of livestock numbers altogether. 

EPAR Research Brief #156
Publication Date: 07/31/2011
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This literature review examines the environmental impacts of goats in pastoral and mixed farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We find that the most notable environmental implications of goats stem from their ability to graze on a wide variety of biomass sources in frequently marginal environments; while this intensive grazing stimulates biodiversity loss and may be more severe than grazing by other livestock species, goats are not a major driver of forest clearing due to their low economic value. Environmental benefits of goat production include keeping wildlife corridors open, preventing the spread of noxious weeds, and promoting the growth of local vegetative species through moderate grazing. Goats are also more water-efficient than large ruminants such as cattle. Mitigation strategies vary by category of environmental impact, but largely suggest improved productivity to reduce land conversion, modified management systems (e.g., biodiversity, water use and consumption, grazing intensity and frequency, and waste), and the reduction of livestock numbers altogether.

EPAR Research Brief #157
Publication Date: 07/31/2011
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This literature review examines the environmental impacts of chickens in pastoral and mixed farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Compared to ruminant species (cattle, water buffalo, and goats), chickens produce lower carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions, are a less significant driver of human expansion into natural habitat or of overgrazing, have lower impacts on the water cycle, and cause less destruction of natural habitats. Poultry’s major impacts on land degradation result from the production of their grain-intensive feed. Chicken production also poses a threat to avian biodiversity, as chickens are susceptible to viruses and act as vectors of disease transmission to avian wildlife. Chicken manure is widely viewed as a valuable fertilizer in developing countries, although transportation costs limit manure sales in local markets and the high nitrogen-phosphorous ratio can impact certain soils and water. Mitigation strategies vary by category of environmental impact, but largely suggest modified management systems (e.g., biodiversity, health, livestock feed efficiency, and waste).

EPAR Research Brief #144
Publication Date: 04/06/2011
Type: Research Brief
Abstract

This research brief synthesizes evidence on the effects of policy incentives on agricultural productivity. The evidence discussed is primarily drawn from documents provided to EPAR by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We review the role of policy and institutions in the Asian Green Revolution, a detailed case study on how policy changes have removed smallholder productivity constraints and contributed to growth, and the theory on the connection of policy incentives to productivity growth.