Research Topics

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 Presentation #103
Publication Date: 11/08/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This presentation reviews and presents definitions and theories around incorporating sustainability into agricultural productivity. We review ecological, social, and economic sustainability and examine agricultural productivity through the lenses of nutrition, gender, environment, and climate change. The annotated bibliography identifies critical work from academic literature to aid in defining sustainable agricultural productivity. The methodology to generate these reports included searching the University of Washington Libraries system, Google Scholar, the University of Minnesota’s AgEcon Search, as well as the websites of the FAO, World Bank, and CGIAR. We also reviewed the most recent (2010) publications of the Handbook of Agricultural Economics and the Handbook of Development Economics. 

EPAR Technical Report #62
Publication Date: 10/23/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Researchers expect that agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will experience major impacts from climate change, leaving the already food-insecure region subject to the largest contractions of agricultural incomes and food availability. As part of the Crops & Climate Change series, this brief presents an evaluation of the importance of maize in SSA, a novel analysis of historical and projected climate conditions in maize-growing regions, and a summary of current resources dedicated to maize adaptation. Overall, this analysis indicates that the importance of maize as a food crop remains high throughout SSA. Significant portions of maize-growing SSA will face climate conditions outside the range of country- and continent-level historical precedent. Rising temperatures and changes in precipitation are predicted, and reductions in maize yield and production will likely follow. Resources intended to aid adaptation to climate change flow primarily from public sector research and development efforts. Country-level adaptation strategies are often hampered by lack of funding and insufficient institutional capacity. Strategies for adaptation include improved agricultural practices and technology as well as infrastructure and program investments to absorb the impacts of climate change.

EPAR Technical Report #71
Publication Date: 10/22/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to experience major impacts from climate change, leaving the already food-insecure region subject to the largest contractions of agricultural incomes and food availability. As part of the Crops & Climate Change series, this brief presents an evaluation of the importance of rice in SSA, a novel analysis of historical and projected climate conditions in rice-growing regions in relation to rice's agronomic requirements, and a summary of current resources dedicated to rice. This three-pillared approach serves to identify gaps in resources dedicated to rice productivity in SSA in light of the crop’s resilience to projected changes in climate and increasing importance in the region’s food security. Overall, this analysis indicates that the importance of rice in SSA is increasing even as climate change is projected to have significant effects on the temperature in rice-growing regions. The current resources dedicated to rice research and dissemination of improved methods are insufficient to meet Africa’s rice production needs, and may not reflect the importance of the crop for the region’s food security under the future projected climate.

EPAR Technical Report #104
Publication Date: 10/12/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Limited sanitation infrastructure, poor hygienic practices, and unsafe drinking water negatively affect the health of millions of people in the developing world. Using sanitation interventions to interrupt disease pathways can significantly improve public health. Sanitation interventions primarily benefit public health by reducing the prevalence of enteric pathogenic illnesses, which cause diarrhea. Health benefits are realized and accrue to the direct recipients of sanitation interventions and also to their neighbors and others in their communities. In a report to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Hutton et al. (2006) estimate that the cost-benefit ratio of sanitation interventions in all developing countries worldwide is 11.2. This literature review summarizes the risks of inadequate sanitation to public health and presents the empirical evidence on the public health benefits of complete, intermediate and multiple factor sanitation interventions. We find that complete or improved sanitary systems can offer concrete public health benefits by reducing exposure pathways to a variety of infectious diseases contained in human feces and wastewater. Substantial complementary economic gains are also predicted to accrue as a result of providing increased sanitation. In addition,  community-wide sanitation interventions seem to offer the greatest promise for reducing pathogenic health risks from feces.

EPAR Technical Report #98
Publication Date: 10/12/2010
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

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 Technical Report #5
Publication Date: 12/15/2008
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

As our understanding of the impacts of hidden hunger on human nutrition grows, understanding the link between fertilizer use and human nutrition becomes increasingly important. This report presents an analysis of both grey and peer-reviewed literature on the effects of fertilizer use on nutritional quality of food, particularly the staples of maize, rice, wheat, cassava and legumes. We find that some nutrient deficiencies, such as zinc, can be effectively addressed through fertilizer use while others, such as iron deficiency, are more difficult to address.  Promising breakthroughs with fortified and complete fertilizers present the opportunity to correct multiple deficiencies. Current fertilizer products exist that, when applied with the proper agronomic methods, can have a significant effect on nutrition in the developing world.  However, it is important to recognize that there are many factors in the developing world that have the potential to inhibit the benefits of fertilizer for human nutrition.  Two significant factors are poor farmers’ difficulty in procuring the correct product and the relative sophistication required to apply fertilizers at the correct amounts and time to achieve desired results.  In addition, researchers have not focused on fertilizer and nutrition studies until recently, particularly micronutrient fertilizer studies, and few studies specifically study the impacts of fertilizer on human nutrition.  More research needs to be done to understand the most effective combinations and techniques, and to understand whether these methods truly increase the amount of nutrients bioavailable to humans. 

EPAR Research Brief #2
Publication Date: 10/30/2008
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This brief reviews the literature on the links between agriculture and human nutrition in rural South Asia, exploring why South Asia has experienced enormous growth in agricultural productivity without subsequent reductions in hunger.  An annotated review of relevant articles is included in addition to the analysis.  The articles are presented by sub-topic, including sustained economic growth versus lack of progress in nutrition rates and hunger in South Asia, primary determinants of improved nutrition at the household level, agricultural productivity/reform and interventions in nutritional status.