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 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 #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 #46
Publication Date: 09/03/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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. 

EPAR Technical Report #28
Publication Date: 08/10/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Technical Report #35
Publication Date: 05/13/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This report provides a general overview of trends in public and private agricultural research and development (R&D) funding and expenditures in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The request is divided into two sections, covering public funding and private funding. Within each section, relevant data is presented on historical funding patterns, the types of research conducted, and which countries within SSA are financing R&D at the highest level. We find that the majority of growth in African public agricultural research funding took place in the 1960s, when real public spending on agricultural research increased 6% a year. From 1971 to 2000 annual growth averaged 1.4% a year. Public financing of agricultural R&D experienced a moderate shift in the 1990s from bilateral and multilateral donor funding to domestic government financing. The shift varied by country, but donor funding dropped for all SSA countries an average of 10%. Private research and development funding is heavily concentrated in developed countries with the United States and Japan the two biggest spenders. Within SSA, private R&D expenditures comprise 2% of all R&D spending. The main private actors in SSA are companies based in South Africa and Nigeria. The private sector is focused on research areas that involve marketable inputs, such as chemicals, seeds, and machines/

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.