Types of Research
The literature on poverty’s causes and cures in developing countries posits a variety of contributing factors. Most researchers acknowledge that a sustained exit from poverty is complex and no single causal pathway from poverty to non-poverty exists. In this review, we present a summary framework for categorizing the various theorized pathways out of poverty, and evaluate the empirical evidence for which interventions and resulting outcomes are most frequently and most strongly associated with poverty alleviation. We conducted a literature review on pathways out of poverty for low-income households in developing countries and identified and categorized general strategies and outcomes demonstrated to be empirically associated with poverty alleviation. We organized the general strategies into four asset groups that could be targeted to alleviate poverty: human, natural, built / financial, and social / political. Much of the literature presents positive results on poverty alleviation, but it is difficult to compare across studies because many of the studies were conducted in different countries and at different scales, and use a variety of outcome measures.
This report provides a summary of findings from six Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) data analysis reports conducted by various agencies for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). These reports investigate barriers to financial inclusion and use of digital financial services (DFS) in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Uganda. We compile comparable gender-specific statistics, summarize the authors’ findings to determine commonalities and differences across countries, and highlight gender-specific conclusions and recommendations provided in the studies.
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.
In this brief we analyze patterns of intercropping and differences between intercropped and monocropped plots among smallholder farmers in Tanzania using data from the 2008/2009 wave of the Tanzania National Panel Survey (TZNPS), part of the Living Standards Measurement Study – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA). Intercropping is a planting strategy in which farmers cultivate at least two crops simultaneously on the same plot of land. In this brief we define intercropped plots as those for which respondents answered “yes” to the question “Was cultivation intercropped?” We define “intercropping households” as those households that intercropped at least one plot at any point during the year in comparison to households that did not intercrop any plots. The analysis reveals few significant, consistent productivity benefits to intercropping as currently practiced. Intercropped plots are not systematically more productive (in terms of value produced) than monocropped plots. The most commonly cited reason for intercropping was to provide a substitute crop in the case of crop failure. This suggests that food and income security are primary concerns for smallholder farmers in Tanzania. A separate appendix includes the details for our analyses.
Consumer attitudes are a key component in private sector market segmentation. Knowledge about consumers’ tastes can lead to better product design and more effective communication with target markets. Similarly, evidence suggests that farmers’ attitudes influence whether they adopt productivity-increasing technologies. Using consumer insights from the private sector, agricultural intervention programs can use market research, product development, and communication strategies to better understand farmers as consumers and best target interventions. This brief provides an overview of how farmers' attitudes affect their willingness to adopt new technology, and how knowledge of farmer attitudes can improve program design and implementation.
This desk study reports on the small-scale machinery sector in China and a selection of SSA countries: Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Uganda. The report is organized into three sections. Section 1 discusses the current state of small-scale agricultural machinery in SSA for crop and livestock production in each of the SSA countries identified. It also seeks to identify major areas of need in terms of agricultural mechanization and major constraints to agricultural machinery adoption, dissemination and maintenance. Section 2 focuses on the agricultural machinery sector in China and Chinese Africa relationships in agricultural development. It also identifies the major government players in the Chinese agricultural machinery sector. Section 3 is a “directory” of small-scale agricultural machinery manufactured in China with potential relevance for SSA smallholder farmers. We divide machines by function (e.g. threshing) although many Chinese machines are multi-function and can serve multiple purposes. We also note applicable crops, if listed by the manufacturers, and technical specifications as available.
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.
Market-oriented agricultural production can be a mechanism to increase smallholder farmer welfare, rural market performance, and contribute to overall economic growth. Cash crop production can allow households to increase their income by producing output with higher returns to land and labor and using the income generated from sales to purchase goods for consumption. However, in the face of missing and underperforming markets, African smallholder households are often unable to produce efficiently or obtain staple foods reliably and cheaply. This literature review summarizes the available literature on the impact of smallholder participation in cash crop and export markets on household welfare and rural markets. The review focuses exclusively on evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa regarding top and emerging export crops, with the addition of tobacco and horticulture due to the volume of research relevant to smallholder welfare gains from the production of these crops. It includes theoretical frameworks, case studies, empirical evidence, and historical analysis from 42 primary empirical studies and 112 resources overall.
Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, such as provisioning of fresh water, food, feed, fiber, biodiversity, energy, and nutrient cycling. Agricultural production can substantially affect the functioning of ecosystems, both positively and negatively. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the impacts of agricultural technologies and practices on ecosystem services such as soil fertility, water, biodiversity, air, and climate. The report describes the environmental impacts of different aspects of intensive cropping practices and of inputs associated with intensification. We further explore these impacts by examining intensive rice systems and industrial crop processing. Although this report focuses on the impacts of agricultural practices on the environment, many of the practices also have implications for plant, animal, and human health. Farmers and others who come in contact with air, water, and soils polluted by chemical fertilizers and pesticides may face negative health consequences, for instance. By impacting components of the ecosystem, these practices affect the health of plants and animals living within the ecosystem. We find that the unintended environmental consequences of intensive agricultural practices and inputs are varied and potentially severe. In some cases, sustaining or increasing agricultural productivity depends upon reducing impacts to the environment, such as maintaining productive soils by avoiding salinization from irrigation water. However, in other cases, eliminating negative environmental impacts may involve unacceptable trade-offs with food provision or other development goals. Determining the appropriate balance of costs and benefits from intensive agricultural practices is a location-specific exercise requiring knowledge of natural, economic, and social conditions.
Contract farming (CF) is an arrangement between farmers and a processing or marketing firm for the production and supply of agricultural products, often at predetermined prices. This literature review builds on EPAR's review of smallholder contract farming in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (EPAR Technical Report #60) by specifically examining the evidence on impacts and potential benefits of contract farming for women in SSA. Key takeaways suggest women’s direct participation in contract farming is limited, with limited access to land and control over the allocation of labor and cash resources key constraints hindering women’s ability to benefit from CF. Further, we find that the impact of contract farming on women is often mediated by their relative bargaining power within the household.