Research Topics

EPAR Research Brief #312
Publication Date: 07/30/2015
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This brief reviews the evidence of realized yield gains by smallholder farmers attributable to the use of high-quality seed and/or improved seed varieties. Our analysis suggests that in most cases, use of improved varieties and/or quality seed is associated with modest yield increases.  In the sample of 395 trials reviewed, positive yield changes accompanied the use of improved variety or quality seed, on average, in 10 out of 12 crops, with rice and cassava as the two exceptions.

EPAR Research Brief #228
Publication Date: 04/18/2014
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) is a widely-grown staple food in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder cassava production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA), noting where the analysis applies to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the cassava value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., soil, water, and input use), and post-production (e.g., crop storage). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests, etc.) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil erosion, water depletion and pesticide contamination). We then highlight good practices for overcoming environmental constraints and minimizing environmental impacts in smallholder cassava production systems. Evidence on environmental issues in smallholder cassava production is relatively thin, and unevenly distributed across regions. The literature on cassava in South Asian smallholder systems is limited, reflecting a crop of secondary importance (though it is widely found elsewhere in Asia such as South East Asia), in comparison to cassava in much of SSA. The majority of the research summarized in this brief is from SSA. The last row of Table 1 summarizes good practices currently identified in the literature. However, the appropriate strategy in a given situation will vary widely based on contextual factors, such as local environmental conditions, market access, cultural preferences, production practices and the policy environment.

EPAR Technical Report #254
Publication Date: 03/20/2014
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This overview introduces a series of EPAR briefs in the Agriculture-Environment Series that examine crop-environment interactions for a range of crops in smallholder food production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). The briefs cover the following important food crops in those regions; rice (#208), maize (#218), sorghum/millets (#213), sweet potato/yam (#225), and cassava (#228).

Drawing on the academic literature and the field expertise of crop scientists, these briefs highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the crop value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing and tilling), production (such as water, nutrient and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal and crop storage). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on crop yields (including poor soils, water scarcity, crop pests) and impacts of crop production on the environment (such as soil erosion, water depletion and pest resistance). We then highlight best practices from the literature and from expert experience for minimizing negative environmental impacts in smallholder crop production systems.

This overview (along with the accompanying detailed crop briefs) seeks to provide a framework for stimulating across-crop discussions and informed debates on the full range of crop-environment interactions in agricultural development initiatives.

A paper based on this research series was published in Food Security in August 2015.

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 Technical Report #203
Publication Date: 07/31/2012
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This report provides a general overview of the wheat market in Bangladesh. The first section describes trends in wheat production and consumption over the past twenty years and summarizes recent trade policy related to wheat. The second section presents the findings of a literature review of the wheat value chain in Bangladesh, beginning with seed selection and ending with sales. Finally, wheat consumption in Bangladesh is discussed in more depth, including nutritional information about wheat, substitute grain markets, and projected consumption in 2030. We find that wheat production in Bangladesh has been volatile and continues to reflect significant yield gaps. While wheat consumption has increased, rice is the most important crop and food grain. Increased demand by private traders for higher quality wheat for processing has fueled rising import levels, and the the gap between domestic supply and demand is projected to grow to over 4 million tons by 2030.

EPAR Technical Report #199
Publication Date: 07/27/2012
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Over the past 20 years, global wheat production and consumption have increased significantly. Production has increased 28%, or about 1.3% annually, and consumption has increased about 24%, or 1.1% annually. A small number of countries consistently account for over 90% of the export market, but the import market is more diversified and involves many more countries. Wheat is primarily used for food, seed, and industry; only 20% of wheat production is used for animal feed. This brief provides a global overview of the wheat value chain, but with specific attention to three focus countries: Ethiopia, India (specifically the Bihar region), and Bangladesh. While these three countries currently have a limited impact in the global wheat market, projections of wheat production and demand suggest that over the next 20 years demand in Bangladesh and Ethiopia will increasingly exceed supply, while India will become a net importer by 2030.