Types of Research
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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.
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.
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’s Political Economy of Fertilizer Policy series provides a history of government intervention in the fertilizer markets of eight Sub-Saharan African countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania. The briefs focus on details of present and past voucher programs, input subsidies, tariffs in the fertilizer sector, and the political context of these policies. The briefs illustrate these policies’ effect on key domestic crops and focus on the strengths and weaknesses of current market structure. Fertilizer policy in SSA has been extremely dynamic over the last fifty years, swinging from enormous levels of intervention in the 1960s and 70s to liberalization of markets of the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, intervention has become more moderate, focusing on “market smart” subsidies and support. This executive summary highlights key findings and common themes from the series.
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 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.
In Tanzania, agriculture represents approximately 50 percent of GDP, 80 percent of rural employment, and over 50 percent of the foreign exchange earnings. Yet poor soil fertility and resulting low productivity contribute to low economic growth and widespread poverty. Chemical fertilizer has the potential to contribute to crop yield increases. Yet high prices and weaknesses in the fertilizer market keep fertilizer use low. This literature review examines the history of government interventions that have intended to increase access to fertilizers, and reviews current policies, market structure, and challenges that contribute to the present conditions. We find that despite numerous strategies over the last fifty years, from heavy government involvement to liberalization, major weaknesses in Tanzania’s fertilizer market prevent efficient use of fertilizer. High transportation costs, low knowledge level of farmers and agrodealers, unavailability of improved seed, and limited access to credit all contribute to the market’s problems. The government’s current framework, the Tanzania Agriculture Input Partnership (TAIP), acknowledges this interconnectedness by targeting multiple components of the market. This model could help Tanzania tailor solutions relevant to specific road, soil, and market conditions of different areas of the country, contributing to enhanced food security and economic growth.
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.
The Government of Kenya (GoK) has historically encouraged its farmers to use fertilizer by financing infrastructure and supporting fertilizer markets. From 1974 to 1984, the GoK provided a fertilizer importation monopoly to one firm, the Kenya Farmers Association. However, the GoK saw that this monopoly impeded fertilizer market development by prohibiting competing firms from entering the market and, in the latter half of the 1980s, encouraged other firms to enter the highly regulated fertilizer market. This report examines the state of fertilizer use in Kenya by reviewing and summarizing literature on recent fertilizer price increases, Kenya’s fertilizer usage trends and approaches, market forces, and the impact of government and non-government programs. We find that most studies of Kenya’s fertilizer market find it to be well functioning and generally competitive, and conclude that market reform has stimulated fertilizer use mainly by improving farmers’ access to the input through the expansion of private retail networks. Overall fertilizer consumption in Kenya has increased steadily since 1980, and fertilizer use among smallholders is among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet fertilizer consumption is still limited, especially on cereal crops, and in areas where agroecological conditions create greater risks and lower returns to fertilizer use.
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.