Research Topics

EPAR Technical Report #303
Publication Date: 08/10/2015
Type: Data Analysis
Abstract

Common estimates of agricultural productivity rely upon crude measures of crop yield, typically defined as the weight harvested of a crop divided by the area harvested. But this common yield measure poorly reflects performance among farm systems combining multiple crops in one area (e.g., intercropping), and also ignores the possibility that farmers might lose crop area between planting and harvest (e.g., partial crop failure). Drawing on detailed plot-level data from Tanzania’s National Panel Survey, our research contrasts measures of smallholder productivity using production per hectare harvested and production per hectare planted.

An initial analysis (Research Brief - Rice Productivity Measurement) looking at rice production finds that yield by area planted differs significantly from yield by area harvested, particularly for smaller farms and female-headed households. OLS regression further reveals different demographic and management-related drivers of variability in yield gains – and thus different implications for policy and development interventions – depending on the yield measurement used. Findings suggest a need to better specify “yield” to more effectively guide agricultural development efforts.

 

EPAR Technical Report #311
Publication Date: 08/06/2015
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This report provides a summary of findings from six Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) data analysis reports conducted by various agencies for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). These reports investigate barriers to financial inclusion and use of digital financial services (DFS) in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Uganda. We compile comparable gender-specific statistics, summarize the authors’ findings to determine commonalities and differences across countries, and highlight gender-specific conclusions and recommendations provided in the studies. 

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 Technical Report #245
Publication Date: 04/10/2015
Type: Data Analysis
Abstract

A farmer’s decision of how much land to dedicate to each crop reflects their farming options at the extensive and intensive margins. The extensive margin represents the total amount of agricultural land area that a farmer has available in a given year (referred to interchangeably as ‘farm size’ or ‘agricultural land’). A farmer increases land use on the extensive margin by planting on new agricultural land. The intensive margin represents area planted of crops as a proportion of total farm size. A farmer increases the intensive margin by increasing output within a fixed area. This analysis examines cropping patterns for households in Tanzania between 2008 and 2010 using data from the Tanzania National Panel Survey (TZNPS).  This brief describes changes in farm size, total area planted, and area planted of select annual crops to highlight the dynamic nature of farmer’s cropping choices for a sample population of 2,246 agricultural households that reported having any agricultural land in 2008 or 2010. Throughout the brief, we present summary statistics at the national level and compare them with household-level data to show how results vary depending on how the sub-population is defined and how average measures can mask household level changes. We analyze these questions in the context of smallholders (defined as households with total agricultural land area as less than two hectares) and farming systems.  

EPAR Technical Report #102
Publication Date: 12/13/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Technical Report #100
Publication Date: 09/28/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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. 

EPAR Technical Report #65
Publication Date: 03/17/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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. 

EPAR Research Brief #67
Publication Date: 03/08/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Contract farming (CF) is an arrangement between farmers and a processing or marketing firm for the production and supply of agricultural products, often at predetermined prices. This literature review builds on EPAR's review of smallholder contract farming in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (EPAR Technical Report #60)  by specifically examining the evidence on impacts and potential benefits of contract farming for women in SSA. Key takeaways suggest women’s direct participation in contract farming is limited, with limited access to land and control over the allocation of labor and cash resources key constraints hindering women’s ability to benefit from CF. Further, we find that the impact of contract farming on women is often mediated by their relative bargaining power within the household.  

EPAR Technical Report #60
Publication Date: 03/05/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

In recent years, product supply chains for agricultural goods have become increasingly globalized. As a result, greater numbers of smallholder farmers in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) participate in global supply chains, many of them through contract farming (CF). CF is an arrangement between a farmer and a processing or marketing firm for the production and supply of agricultural products, often at predetermined prices. This literature review finds empirical evidence that demonstrates that the economic and social benefits of CF for smallholder farmers are mixed. A number of studies suggest that CF may improve farmer productivity, reduce production risk and transaction costs, and increase farmer incomes. However, critics caution that CF may undermine farmers’ relative bargaining power and increase health, environmental, and financial risk through exposure to monopsonistic markets, weak contract environments, and unfamiliar agricultural technologies. There is consensus across the literature that CF has the best outcomes for farmers when farmers have more bargaining power to negotiate the terms of the contract. In reviewing the literature on CF, we find a number of challenges to comparing studies and evaluating outcomes across contracts. This literature review summarizes empirical findings and analyses regarding contract models and best practices to increase farmers’ bargaining power and decrease contract default.

EPAR Research Brief #64
Publication Date: 03/03/2010
Type: Research Brief
Abstract

Introducing technology that is designed to be physically appropriate and valuable to women farmers can increase yields and raise income. But gender issues for agricultural technology projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are extremely complex. The EPAR series on Gender and Cropping in SSA offers examples of how these issues can affect crop production and adoption of agricultural technologies at each point in the crop cycle for eight crops (cassava, cotton, maize, millet, rice, sorghum, wheat, and yam). This executive summary highlights innovative opportunities for interventions that consider these dimensions of gender. We encourage readers to consult the crop specific briefs for more details. We find that involving both men and women in the development, testing, and dissemination of agricultural technology has been shown to be successful in helping both benefit. Nevertheless, a consistent finding throughout the Gender and Cropping in SSA series is that maximum benefits from technological innovations cannot be realized when upstream factors like education, power, and land tenure heavily influence outcomes. Addressing these more basic upstream causes of gender inequality may be even more important in helping households increase productivity and maximize the benefits of technological interventions.