Types of Research
This brief presents an overview of EPAR’s previous research on nutrition and food security and outlines summaries and key findings from 15 technical reports and research briefs. Key findings are drawn from our own original analyses as well as from other sources, which are cited in the individual reports. We also include appendices briefly summarizing EPAR’s research on health and climate change, topics somewhat related to nutrition and food security, and EPAR’s confidential work on nutrition and food security.
Relative to chronic hunger, seasonal hunger in rural and urban areas of Africa is poorly understood. No estimates are compiled, and limited evidence exists on prevalence, causes, and impacts. This paper contributes to the body of evidence by examining the extent and potential drivers of seasonal hunger using panel data from the Malawi Integrated Household Panel Survey (IHPS). Farmers are commonly thought to use various strategies to smooth consumption, including planting “off-season” crops, investing in post-harvest storage technologies, or generally diversifying farm portfolios including livestock products and/or wild crops. Similarly, when markets are available, farmers may diversify through off-farm income sources in order to purchase food in lean seasons. We investigate whether seasonal hunger – distinct from chronic hunger – exists in Malawi, drawing on two waves of panel data from the LSMS-ISA series. We examine the extent of seasonal hunger, factors associated with variation in seasonal hunger, and how recurring and longer-term seasonal hunger might be associated with various household welfare measures. We find that both urban and rural households report experiencing seasonal hunger in the pre-harvest months, with descriptive evidence suggesting male gender, age, and education of household head, livestock ownership, and storage of crops are associated with lower levels of seasonal hunger. In addition, we find that Malawian households with seasonal hunger harvest crops earlier than average – a short-term coping mechanism that can reduce the crop’s yield and nutritional value, possibly perpetuating hunger.
In this report, we analyze the evidence that improved and expanded access to financial services can be a pathway out of poverty in Bangladesh and Tanzania. A brief background review of finance and poverty reduction evidence at the country, household, and individual level emphasizes the importance of a functioning financial system and the need to remove individual and household barriers to capital accumulation. We follow with an in-depth literature review on studies that link poverty reduction in Bangladesh or Tanzania with one or more of five financial intervention categories: remittances; government subsidies; conditional and unconditional cash transfers; credit; and combination programs. The resulting empirical evidence from these sources reveal a high share (61%) of positive reported associations between a financial intervention and outcome measure related to our five chosen financial interventions. The remaining studies found insignificant or mixed associations, but very few (3 out of 56) indicate that access to a financial mechanism was associated with worsened poverty. The heterogeneity of study types and interventions makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the efficacy of one intervention over another, and more research is needed on whether such approaches constitute a durable, long-term exit from poverty.
Common aid allocation formulas incorporate measures of income per capita but not measures of poverty, likely based on the assumption that rising average incomes are associated with reduced poverty. If declining poverty is the outcome of interest, however, the case of Nigeria illustrates that such aid allocation formulas could lead to poorly targeted or inefficient aid disbursements. Using data from the World Bank and the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics, we find that while the relationship between economic growth and poverty in Nigeria varies depending on the time period studied, overall from 1992-2009 Nigeria’s poverty rate has only declined by 6% despite a 70% increase in per capita gross domestic product (GDP). A review of the literature indicates that income inequality, the prominence of the oil sector, unemployment, corruption, and poor education and health in Nigeria may help to explain the pattern of high ongoing poverty rates in the country even in the presence of economic growth. Our analysis is limited by substantial gaps in the availability of quality data on measures of poverty and economic growth in Nigeria, an issue also raised in the literature we reviewed, but our findings support arguments that economic growth should not be assumed to lead to poverty reduction and that the relationship between these outcomes likely depends on contextual factors.
Household survey data are a key source of information for policy-makers at all levels. In developing countries, household data are commonly used to target interventions and evaluate progress towards development goals. The World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) are a particularly rich source of nationally-representative panel data for six Sub-Saharan African countries: Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. To help understand how these data are used, EPAR reviewed the existing literature referencing the LSMS-ISA and identified 415 publications, working papers, reports, and presentations with primary research based on LSMS-ISA data. We find that use of the LSMS-ISA has been increasing each year since the first survey waves were made available in 2009, with several universities, multilateral organizations, government offices, and research groups across the globe using the data to answer questions on agricultural productivity, farm management, poverty and welfare, nutrition, and several other topics.
This four-part analysis describes the current suite of food security measures, then analyzes the respective relationships between food security and poverty, GDP, and crop yields using findings from in-depth literature reviews. Food security measures are criticized for inaccurately characterizing food security at individual, household, and national scales, yet guidelines exist to prescribe a food security measure for a given situation. Some authors see the potential of a combination of indicators that apply at different scales rather than a single, universal food security measure. Limited literature exists on the relationship between food security and poverty, GDP, or crop yields. The relationship between food security and poverty is particularly challenging because neither term has a consistent definition, and the limited literature suggests a lack of consensus among experts. Little empirical research exists on the relationship between food security and GDP, though studies generally note an association between the two Studies that evaluate food security and crop yields provide limited evidence that the two are associated, though many studies use measures of crop yield as food security indicators and vice versa. More research is needed to establish whether there are preferred food security measurement tools for specific scales and situations, and to further explore the relationship between food security and poverty, GDP, and crop yields.
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.
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.
Market-oriented agricultural production can be a mechanism to increase smallholder farmer welfare, rural market performance, and contribute to overall economic growth. Cash crop production can allow households to increase their income by producing output with higher returns to land and labor and using the income generated from sales to purchase goods for consumption. However, in the face of missing and underperforming markets, African smallholder households are often unable to produce efficiently or obtain staple foods reliably and cheaply. This literature review summarizes the available literature on the impact of smallholder participation in cash crop and export markets on household welfare and rural markets. The review focuses exclusively on evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa regarding top and emerging export crops, with the addition of tobacco and horticulture due to the volume of research relevant to smallholder welfare gains from the production of these crops. It includes theoretical frameworks, case studies, empirical evidence, and historical analysis from 42 primary empirical studies and 112 resources overall.