Research Topics

EPAR Research Brief #77
Publication Date: 11/03/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #75
Publication Date: 11/02/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #80
Publication Date: 10/19/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #44
Publication Date: 08/17/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #79
Publication Date: 07/29/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #32
Publication Date: 06/30/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

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.

EPAR Research Brief #27
Publication Date: 05/09/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

As a source of employment for over 20 million Sub-Saharan African (SSA) farmers and the fastest-growing food source in Africa, rice plays a vital role in African economies and daily life. Women play a substantial role in SSA rice production and rely heavily on the income it generates. Not recognizing this role has often resulted in development and research projects failing to address women’s well-being and also failing to achieve project and development goals. Female farmers in SSA have been less likely than male farmers to adopt productivity-enhancing rice technologies such as improved seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, or small machinery, even when those technologies are designed specifically to help women. A more complete understanding of the dynamics and diversity of gender roles in rice farming is necessary to improve the likelihood of successful interventions. This brief provides an overview of the role of women in rice production, and provides a framework for analyzing technology’s impact on women throughout the cropping cycle. We find that labor constraints, low education levels, cultural inappropriateness, and asymmetric access to resources all contribute to low adoption of rice technology by women. In order to fully realize the poverty reduction benefits of increased rice production in SSA, evidence suggests that research and extension programs must consider how interventions will affect women along every stage of the production chain. The effect on women and their households will vary depending on region, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and role in cultivating rice.

EPAR Technical Report #34
Publication Date: 05/03/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

Lack of nitrogen (N) is often cited as the most limiting factor in agriculture. Although N composes nearly 80% of the atmosphere, plants are unable to use this form of the element (N2) because of the strong triple bonds between the two atoms. Nitrogen deficiency is especially problematic in the soils of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Low levels of N and other soil fertility problems have severe poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation consequences for SSA. The process by which atmospheric N2 is converted into N compounds that can be used by living things is called nitrogen fixation. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF or biofixation) offers an alternative or additional means to traditional nitrogen fixation to increase plant-available nitrogen. Through a symbiotic relationship, an N-fixing bacterium infects a plant (usually a legume) and forms nodules on the roots of the plant in which N fixation occurs. This literature review examines the expansion and benefits of BNF, the constraints to BNF adoption, BNF regulations, and success stories of developing and distributing BNF technologies worldwide. BNF technology can be an efficient and effective tool for decreasing environmental degradation and increasing soil fertility, yields, income, and food security in SSA, although many constraints to farmer adoption exist. 

EPAR Technical Report #18
Publication Date: 04/15/2009
Type: Literature Review
Abstract

This report present a thorough review of relevant literature regarding labor constraints currently being faced in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  The review focuses on the impacts of labor supply issues, particularly as they relate to the use of new technology and management techniques, off farm labor migration, and the impacts of HIV/AIDS. The review is provides a basic breakdown of the different kinds of agricultural labor in SSA, before presenting the evidence on the causes and impact of agricultural labor constraints. Though labor constraints can be relevant on both the demand and supply side, especially for certain groups such as women and youth, our review follows the literature by focusing on the supply side issues. The literature reviewed was written between 1990 and 2008, and includes a combination of reports from government organizations and highly cited journal articles.

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.