Research Topics

EPAR Technical Report #254
Publication Date: 03/20/2014
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This overview introduces a series of EPAR briefs in the Agriculture-Environment Series that examine crop-environment interactions for a range of crops in smallholder food production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). The briefs cover the following important food crops in those regions; rice (#208), maize (#218), sorghum/millets (#213), sweet potato/yam (#225), and cassava (#228).

Drawing on the academic literature and the field expertise of crop scientists, these briefs highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the crop value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing and tilling), production (such as water, nutrient and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal and crop storage). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on crop yields (including poor soils, water scarcity, crop pests) and impacts of crop production on the environment (such as soil erosion, water depletion and pest resistance). We then highlight best practices from the literature and from expert experience for minimizing negative environmental impacts in smallholder crop production systems.

This overview (along with the accompanying detailed crop briefs) seeks to provide a framework for stimulating across-crop discussions and informed debates on the full range of crop-environment interactions in agricultural development initiatives.

A paper based on this research series was published in Food Security in August 2015.

EPAR Research Brief #225
Publication Date: 10/15/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

After cereals, root and tuber crops - including sweetpotato and yam (in addition to cassava and aroids), are the second most cultivated crops in tropical countries. This literature review examines the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, sweetpotato and yam production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). The review highlights crop-environment interactions at three stages of the sweetpotato/yam value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., soil, water, and input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal, crop storage and transport). We find that sweetpotato and yam face similar environmental stressors. In particular, because sweetpotato and yam are vegetatively propagated, the most significant (and avoidable) environmental constraints to crop yields include disease and pest infection transmitted through the use of contaminated planting materials. Published estimates suggest yield gains in the range of 30–60% can be obtained through using healthy planting material. Moreover, reducing pest damage in the field can greatly increase the storage life of root and tuber crops after harvest – currently losses from rot and desiccation can claim up to 100% of stored sweetpotato and yam on smallholder farms.

EPAR Research Brief #215
Publication Date: 08/31/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Maize has expanded through the 20th and into the 21st century to become the principle staple food crop produced and consumed by smallholder farm households in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and maize production has also expanded in South Asia (SA) farming systems. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder maize production systems in SSA and SA, noting where findings apply to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the maize value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., fertilizer, water, and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal and crop storage). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on maize production (such as poor soil quality, water scarcity, or crop pests) and also environmental impacts of maize production (such as soil erosion, water depletion, or chemical contamination). We then highlight best or good practices for overcoming environmental constraints and minimizing environmental impacts in smallholder maize production systems. Evidence on environmental constraints and impacts in smallholder maize production is uneven. Many environmental concerns such as biodiversity loss are commonly demonstrated more broadly for the agroecology or farming systems in which maize is grown, rather than specifically for the maize crop. And more research is available on the environmental impacts of agrochemical-based intensive cereal farming in Asia (where high-input maize is a common component) than on the low-input subsistence-scale maize cultivation more typical of SSA. Decisive constraint and impact estimates are further complicated by the fact that many crop-environment interactions in maize and other crops are a matter of both cause and effect (e.g., poor soils decrease maize yields, while repeated maize harvests degrade soils). Fully understanding maize-environment interactions thus requires recognizing instances where shortterm adaptations to environmental constraints might be exacerbating other medium- or long-term environmental problems. Conclusions on the strength of published findings on crop-environment interactions in maize systems further depend on one’s weighting of economic versus ecological perspectives, physical science versus social science, academic versus grey literature, and quantity versus quality of methods and findings.

EPAR Research Brief #213
Publication Date: 08/31/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

 In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder sorghum and millet production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). Millet in this paper primarily refers to pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), although a number of other millets of significance to smallholder production and food security are also discussed. Sorghum and millets are known for being more tolerant of major environmental stresses including drought and poor soil quality than other major cereals. But water availability is still among the greatest constraints to increased grain production, and soil fertility also significantly limits yields, especially in cases where cultivation occurs on marginal lands and where crop residues are removed for alternative uses. Ultimately sorghum and millets’ relatively higher tolerance to abiotic stresses is expected to promote an increase in global cropping area for sorghum and millets as an adaptation to climate change. Sorghum and millet exhibit relatively few of the environmental impacts commonly associated with more intensively cultivated crops such as fertilizer runoff, pesticide contamination, or water depletion, since both of these crops are overwhelmingly grown by smallholder farmers with few, if any, chemical or irrigation inputs. Nevertheless, the tendency to grow sorghum and millet on marginal and heavily sloped lands does pose some environmental risks – including soil degradation and erosion – that can be mitigated through the adoption of best practices as described in the brief. 

EPAR Research Brief #208
Publication Date: 05/01/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Rice is the most important food crop of the developing world and is grown on over 155 million ha worldwide. Food security of the poor, especially in Asia, depends critically on rice availability at an affordable price. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder rice production systems in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), noting where the analysis applies to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the rice value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., water and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (e.g., poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil erosion, water depletion, pest resistance). We then highlight best or good practices for minimizing negative environmental impacts in smallholder rice production systems. Evidence on environmental issues in smallholder rice production is uneven. Far more research is available for Asian rice production systems, as compared to African rice systems. And with the possible exception of the evidence on water limits to increasing productivity, conclusions on the strength of published findings on crop-environment interactions in rice depends on one’s weighting of economic versus ecological perspectives, physical science versus social science, academic versus grey literature, and quantity versus quality of methods and findings.

EPAR Research Brief #212
Publication Date: 03/05/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This literature review examines the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, wheat production systems in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The review highlights crop-environment interactions at three stages of the wheat value chain: pre-production (e.g., land availability), production (e.g., heat, water, and soil), and post-production (e.g. storage, crop residues, and transport). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (e.g., poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests, etc.) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil degradation, water depletion and pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). We then highlight published best practices for overcoming environmental constraints and minimizing environmental impacts in wheat production systems. We find that wheat is a significant crop that will need to increase production to meet increasing demand. Most land suitable for wheat production is already under cultivation. Improved production methods are needed to address the demand and avert environmental impacts of producing wheat.  It should not be assumed that improved varieties alone will be able to realistically address growing demands for wheat. Improved variety seeds should be combined with best practices of improved crop management techniques: optimal planting time, zero tillage, fertilizer management, intercropping, crop residue incorporation, and improved storage techniques.

EPAR Research Brief #219
Publication Date: 01/27/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This report provides a genderal overview of the sweet potato value chain in Ethiopia. The first section describes trends in sweet potato production and consumption since the early 1990s. The second section describes the uses and importance of sweet potatoes in Ethiopia. The final section discuss major issues in production, post-production, and marketing. The literature available on sweet potetoes in Ethiopia was quite limited and draws on the wider literature on sweet potatoes in East Africa where needed. We find that Ethiopia ranks fifteenth in the world in terms of sweet potato production. Production has been rising quickly since 2008, following a period of slow decline in the early 2000s. Yields have also been rising slowly since 2008, but are below their peak from 2001. Sweet potato roots are consumed domestically, mostly by poor rural households. The vines also provide an important source of feed for livestock during the dry season. Major constraints to sweet potato production in Ethiopia include a lack of quality planting materials, pests and disease, and underdeveloped markets.

EPAR Research Brief #217
Publication Date: 01/23/2013
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Uganda is the biggest sweet potato producer in Africa in terms of area harvested and production, although Burundi, Rwanda and Madagascar have significantly higher yields.  Sweet potato is a major crop in Uganda, ranking third in cultivated area following plantains and cassava. Sweet potato ranks fourth in gross agricultural production value. The Government of Uganda has recognized sweet potatoes as an important crop for the country and a research priority, especially through establishing the National Agricultural Research Organization potato center. This report provides a general overview of the sweet potato value chain in Uganda. The first section describes trends in sweet potato production and consumption since 1996. The second section describes the varieties grown and their uses. The final section summarizes current practices and constraints in production, processing, and marketing.

EPAR Technical Report #211
Publication Date: 12/14/2012
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This report provides a general overview of the sweet potato value chain in Tanzania. The first section describes trends in sweet potato production and consumption since 1990. The second section describes the uses and importance of sweet potatoes in Tanzania. The final section outlines current practices and constraints in production, post-production, and marketing. Tanzania ranks fifth in the world in quantity of sweet potatoes produced. Production and consumption of sweet potatoes have been relatively constant over the past 10 years, although both production and consumption in this period have been high in comparison to earlier decades. We find that sweet potato yields increased in the early 2000s, but have stagnated since, and are far short of potential yields. Sweet potato consumption is almost entirely domestic and plays an important role in nutrition and food security for smallholder farmers. Sweet potato production faces a variety of constraints, including pests and disease, short shelf life, lack of planting materials, damage during handling, and lack of market access.

EPAR Technical Report #223
Publication Date: 12/10/2012
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Cassava is a tuber crop originating in South America and grown in tropical and subtropical areas throughout the world. Cassava use varies significantly by region. In Africa, cassava is primarily grown for food. In Asia, production is typically for industrial purposes, including ethanol, while in Latin America and the Caribbean it is commonly used in animal feed. Both roots and leaves are consumed, though most information on production focuses on roots. There are bitter and sweet varieties; bitter cassava has a high cyanide content and must be processed prior to consumption, while sweet varieties can be eaten directly. This report presents information about current production, constraints, and future potential of cassava. We discuss cassava’s importance in Africa, current worldwide production, projections for supply and demand, production constraints, and current policies affecting cassava production and trade. We include global information but focus on Africa, particularly Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania.