Types of Research
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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.
In the decades following independence in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire stood out as a shining example of economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. GDP increased at an annual average of 8.1 percent from 1960 to 1979, led largely by cocoa and coffee exports. Low export earnings from a fall in world cocoa prices and a heavy public debt burden halted this growth in the 1980s, followed by civil conflict beginning in 1999. Three decades of focus on export crops rather than food crops also left Côte d’Ivoire with a growing food deficit. This literature review examines the state of agriculture in Côte d’Ivoire and the history of government involvement in the agricultural sector. We find that while the country is poised to reemerge from a decade of economic stagnation and civil war after signing the Ouagadougou Political Accord in 2007, the political economy of Côte d’Ivoire is still heavily dependent upon and influenced by the production of cocoa. Cocoa is the top export, and cocoa export taxes provide one of the largest sources of revenue for the Government of Côte d’Ivoire (GoCI). Cocoa is not heavily dependent on fertilizer inputs and growers have increased production by expanding cropland. The small contribution of fertilizer to the production of this essential crop may help explain the GoCI’s low priority on expanding fertilizer production and use. Given that a large part of government revenue comes from the export of cocoa and coffee, the government has chosen to focus resources on crops that increase revenue. Even with the food riots in 2008, the GoCI has not made increasing domestic food production an important focus of agricultural policy.
In Mozambique, the legacies of colonial rule, socialism and civil war continue to constrain economic growth and agricultural production. Eighty percent of Mozambique’s labor force derives its livelihood from agriculture, but the nation remains a net food importer. The majority of all farmland is cultivated by smallholders whose fertilizer usage and crop yields are among the lowest in Africa. While Mozambique has experienced reasonable economic growth since the end of its civil war in 1992, it remains poor by almost any measure. In this literature review, we examine the state of agriculture in Mozambique, the country’s political history and post-war recovery, and the current fertilizer market. We find evidence that smallholder access to fertilizer in Mozambique is limited by lack of information, affordability, access to credit, a poor business environment, and limited infrastructure. The data demonstrate that increased investment in infrastructure is an important step to improve input and output market access for smallholders. The main government intervention currently impacting smallholder fertilizer use is the Agricultural Sector Public Expenditure Program (PROAGRI) initiative, however, more data is necessary to assess the impact of its policies and programs.
Agriculture is the most important sector in the Ghanaian economy. In 2008, it accounted for over 32 percent of GDP and employed over half of the labor force. Economic development in Ghana has historically been dependent on the success of agriculture, particularly the main export crop, cocoa. Despite the sector’s importance, Ghanaian farmers have one of the lowest fertilizer application rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. The combination of a dominant agricultural sector, nutrient-poor soils, low fertilizer use among smallholder farmers, and the absence of locally produced inorganic fertilizers has prompted the government of Ghana (GoG) to intervene in the fertilizer market. This literature review examines the state of agriculture in Ghana, the history of the fertilizer market, and the current market structure. We find that the GoG has been a major actor in the inorganic fertilizer market over the past 50 years, from exercising total control of the domestic supply chain in the 1960s and 1970s to more indirect interventions in later years. In recent years, agricultural growth has averaged 5.5 percent as compared to 5.2 percent growth in the rest of the economy. However, most of this growth has been due to land expansion and favorable weather conditions rather than increased productivity. Increased fertilizer use among smallholder farmers has the potential to contribute to future agricultural growth and continued economic success.
Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa have often intervened in the fertilizer sector to promote more optimal levels of fertilizer use. Many West African nations, in particular, have inherited a legacy of government involvement, stemming from French colonial policies that encouraged state participation in the agricultural sector. Senegal's colonial past has influenced much of its present economy, from its principal export crop (peanuts) to its major food import (rice). The colonial legacy includes a relatively high degree of urbanization; limited domestic industrial capacity; institutions, policies, and agricultural networks focused on supporting a single export crop; and a history of state intervention into markets. After government intervention in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by a period of liberalization in the 1980s and 1990s, Senegal is again defining its agricultural policy. This literature review examines the state of agriculture in Senegal and the history of Senegalese agricultural policy in order to understand past and current trends in fertilizer usage. We find that Senegal continues to experience a high level of food price fluctuations as it imports increasing amounts of rice to cover its food deficit. Increased use of fertilizer, along with irrigation technology may help improve rice production and increase food security. To achieve this goal, the Government of Senegal (GoS) has embarked on several initiatives, notably the Agro-Silvo-Pastoral Law (LOASP) and the Grande Offensive Agricole pour la Nourriture et l’Abondance (GOANA), employing subsidies to increase fertilizer demand and making food sovereignty a national priority. In the coming years, GoS will need to determine what role the government should play in the agricultural sector, and what level of intervention can be sustained in the long-term.
This literature review provides information on the dynamics of the maize market and maize prices in Zambia. We address four key topics: average production costs and breakeven prices for maize farmers in Zambia, main drivers of volatility of maize production volumes, key factors driving the differences between Zambian and global maize prices, and policies that may have contributed to increased farmer productivity.
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.
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.
Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) use less fertilizer than farmers in any other region in the world. Low fertilizer use is one factor explaining the lag in agricultural productivity growth in Africa. A variety of market interventions to increase fertilizer use have been attempted over the years, with limited success. In the past several decades, Malawi has tried to alter that trend through a variety of innovative programs aimed at achieving national food security through targeted input subsidy programs. The best known of these programs is Malawi’s Starter Pack Programme. The Starter Pack Programme was amended twice into the Targeted Inputs Programme (TIP) and Expanded Targeted Inputs Programme (ETIP), and eventually replaced with the Agricultural Input Subsidy Programme (AISP). The efficiency and equity of the Starter Pack Programme and its successors have been the subject of debate. This report reviews the history, implementation, and perceived effectiveness of the various input subsidy schemes in the context of Malawi’s political economy. We find that AISP is credited with significantly increasing maize yields in Malawi. However, we also find that there are serious challenges facing the most recent input subsidy program, ranging from the rising cost of the subsidy to ongoing implementation struggles related to increased bureaucracy and corruption.
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.