Research Topics

EPAR Research Brief #52
Publication Date: 11/09/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Ecological farming and conventional farming are two approaches to producing food. The term “ecological farming” describes a range of agricultural systems that seek to provide food and environmental and social benefits by using natural processes and local resources rather than off-farm, purchased inputs (commonly referred to as “external inputs”). Recent debate about the merits of ecological farming over conventional methods has centered on each system’s ability to increase production in the context of numerous and varied biophysical and social constraints. A review of the literature suggests that ecological farming can offer some benefits to smallholder farmers, but that specific approaches must be tailored to local climate and soil conditions and availability of labor, training, and organic inputs.

EPAR Research Brief #44
Publication Date: 08/17/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Bt maize technology involves developing hybrid maize crops that incorporate genes from the soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The primary benefit of Bt maize technology is the heightened crop protection from stem borers, which are maize pests that can inflict serious crop losses. Bt maize has been cultivated in Mexico, South Africa and several countries in the European Union, with limited cultivation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This report provides a summary of literature on the potential benefits and challenges associated with Bt maize production in SSA. Research studies of Bt maize in the Philippines and South Africa are also briefly reviewed. There is little peer-reviewed literature available, with evidence challenging the assumed benefits of Bt maize for smallholder farmers in SSA. As a result, we also review research briefs and conference proceedings available from reputable international organizations. Although some of the available literature references the ethical concerns over Bt maize production, we focus on searching for science-based discussions related to any potential biodiversity, biosafety, or socio-economic impacts of Bt maize technology for smallholder farmers in SSA.

EPAR Technical Report #28
Publication Date: 08/10/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Smallholder farmers in Africa are largely located in poor rural areas, are often geographically dispersed, and have limited access to road and communication infrastructure, thus raising the cost of market participation. This is especially true for farmers growing relatively low value staple crops. This literature review summarizes research on the challenges and innovations in linking smallholder producers of staple grains to markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on post-harvest issues including storage, aggregation, and transportation. For each post-harvest stage, we describe challenges faced by farmers and current efforts to address these challenges. In our review, we find a large amount of literature on the constraints to smallholder production and marketing but relatively few examples of innovative or novel technologies designed to improve storage and transportation for rural smallholder producers in Africa. Existing technologies have often been available for some time but have not seen widespread adoption, apparently due to high costs or inadequate funding for on-farm testing and extension. We conclude that the literature is somewhat divided as to whether interventions linking smallholder farmers to markets should be entirely market-driven and focus on linkages that can be profitable without subsidization, or whether NGO- and donor-driven interventions should play a role.

EPAR Research Brief #32
Publication Date: 06/30/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Though not indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), cassava plays, to varying degrees, five major roles in African development: famine-reserve crop, rural food staple, cash crop for urban consumption, livestock feed, and industrial raw material. Cassava production in SSA was historically a significant staple crop for smallholder farmers and continues to be the second most important food crop in Africa (after maize) in terms of calories consumed. Subsistence crops such as cassava are often considered women’s crops with the standard explanation that women are responsible for feeding the family and thus prefer to grow crops for the household. This brief reviews the role that women play in cassava production, and considers ways to better address gender issues from planting through post-harvest production. We find that the potential gains to cassava production made possible through improved technology will not be fully realized without the participation of women farmers and without women farmers having access to credit, markets, and extension services. Additionally, evidence from SSA suggests that labor for harvesting and processing, rather than labor for weeding, has become the key labor constraint for cassava, and addressing this concern may be more important than further yield increases for raising production levels.

EPAR Research Brief #27
Publication Date: 05/09/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

As a source of employment for over 20 million Sub-Saharan African (SSA) farmers and the fastest-growing food source in Africa, rice plays a vital role in African economies and daily life. Women play a substantial role in SSA rice production and rely heavily on the income it generates. Not recognizing this role has often resulted in development and research projects failing to address women’s well-being and also failing to achieve project and development goals. Female farmers in SSA have been less likely than male farmers to adopt productivity-enhancing rice technologies such as improved seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, or small machinery, even when those technologies are designed specifically to help women. A more complete understanding of the dynamics and diversity of gender roles in rice farming is necessary to improve the likelihood of successful interventions. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in rice production, and provides a framework for analyzing technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that labor constraints, low education levels, cultural inappropriateness, and asymmetric access to resources all contribute to low adoption of rice technology by women. In order to fully realize the poverty reduction benefits of increased rice production in SSA, evidence suggests that research and extension programs must consider how interventions will affect women along every stage of the production chain. The effect on women and their households will vary depending on region, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and role in cultivating rice.

EPAR Technical Report #34
Publication Date: 05/03/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Lack of nitrogen (N) is often cited as the most limiting factor in agriculture. Although N composes nearly 80% of the atmosphere, plants are unable to use this form of the element (N2) because of the strong triple bonds between the two atoms. Nitrogen deficiency is especially problematic in the soils of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Low levels of N and other soil fertility problems have severe poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation consequences for SSA. The process by which atmospheric N2 is converted into N compounds that can be used by living things is called nitrogen fixation. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF or biofixation) offers an alternative or additional means to traditional nitrogen fixation to increase plant-available nitrogen. Through a symbiotic relationship, an N-fixing bacterium infects a plant (usually a legume) and forms nodules on the roots of the plant in which N fixation occurs. This literature review examines the expansion and benefits of BNF, the constraints to BNF adoption, BNF regulations, and success stories of developing and distributing BNF technologies worldwide. BNF technology can be an efficient and effective tool for decreasing environmental degradation and increasing soil fertility, yields, income, and food security in SSA, although many constraints to farmer adoption exist. 

EPAR Technical Report #18
Publication Date: 04/15/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This report present a thorough review of relevant literature regarding labor constraints currently being faced in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  The review focuses on the impacts of labor supply issues, particularly as they relate to the use of new technology and management techniques, off farm labor migration, and the impacts of HIV/AIDS. The review is provides a basic breakdown of the different kinds of agricultural labor in SSA, before presenting the evidence on the causes and impact of agricultural labor constraints. Though labor constraints can be relevant on both the demand and supply side, especially for certain groups such as women and youth, our review follows the literature by focusing on the supply side issues. The literature reviewed was written between 1990 and 2008, and includes a combination of reports from government organizations and highly cited journal articles.

EPAR Research Brief #99
Publication Date: 01/31/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring carcinogen produced by the fungus Aspergillus, particularly Aspergillus Flavus and Aspergillus Parasiticus. Aflatoxin contamination places an economic and health burden on farmers throughout the developing world, but reliable prevalence data are difficult to obtain. This report analyzes data from 25 primary research articles published within the last 15 years in order to provide a summary of aflatoxin contamination in the developing world. This report is divided into three parts, roughly aligning with phases of the agricultural value chain. Data for prevalence at the production and processing stage are presented first, followed by data for prevalence during storage, and finally by a summary of data for aflatoxin levels at consumption and point-of sale. We find maize and groundnuts to be the crops most affected by aflatoxin, while Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are the geographic areas most likely to be affected. Agroecological conditions including warm humid climates, irrigated hot deserts, and droughts contribute to aflatoxin contamination, and we find that contamination can occur throughout the value chain.