Types of Research
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Agriculture and Climate Change: Part I
With estimated global emissions of 5,969-6,615 metric tons (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, agriculture accounts for about 13.5% of total global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). Deforestation contributes about 11.8% of total GHG emissions, releasing about 5,800 Mt CO2 per year. Developing countries are largely responsible for emissions from agriculture and deforestation, with the developing countries of South Asia and East Asia accounting for 17% and 25% of global agricultural emissions respectively. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) accounts for about 13% of global emissions from agriculture and 15% of emissions from land use change and forestry. This report examines the biophysical and economic potential of mitigating agriculture and land use GHG emissions, and provides a summary on the current and projected impact of global carbon market mechanisms on emission reductions.
Agriculture and Climate Change: Part II
This report covers two topics related to agriculture and climate change in developing countries. The first section discusses the role of agricultural offsets in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Recent negotiations around a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement have included debate about whether agricultural carbon sequestration projects should be eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). We examine the reasons for supporting or opposing this type of CDM reform and how these reasons relate to impacts on development goals and smallholder farmers, scientific uncertainty about carbon sequestration, and philosophical disagreement about the use of emission offsets. The second section covers proposed agricultural adaptation activities in Africa and other developing countries. While the majority of developing countries have outlined immediate adaptation needs in National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs), few have made progress in implementing adaptation activities. We find that issues related to financial resources, scientific and technical information, and capacity building continue to challenge developing countries in preparing for the impacts of climate change.
On July 10, 2009 at the Italy G8 summit, attendees issued a joint statement pledging to contribute $20 billion towards agricultural development and food security in the developing world over the next three years. This research brief notes the status of the contributions made to the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative and whether any of the $20 billion will be allocated to agricultural research. We conclude that no declarations have been made as of September 2009 on how much of the $20 billion will be allocated to agricultural research, and which types of research will be funded by the initiative.