Types of Research
According to AGRA's 2017 Africa Agriculture Status Report, smallholder farmers make up to about 70% of the population in Africa. The report finds that 500 million smallholder farms around the world provide livelihoods for more than 2 billion people and produce about 80% of the food in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Many development interventions and policies therefore target smallholder farm households with the goals of increasing their productivity and promoting agricultural transformation. Of particular interest for agricultural transformation is the degree to which smallholder farm households are commercializating their agricultural outputs, and diversifying their income sources away from agriculture. In this project, EPAR uses data from the World Bank's Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) to analyze and compare characteristics of smallholder farm households at different levels of crop commercialization and reliance on farm income, and to evaluate implications of using different criteria for defining "smallholder" households for conclusions on trends in agricultural transformation for those households.
Crop yield is one of the most commonly used partial factor productivity measures. It is used to estimate the ratio of quantity of crop output, generally measured in kilograms or tons, to a sole input, land area. Ongoing EPAR research explores the policy implications of measuring yield by area planted versus area harvested. In this brief, we consider implications for crop yield estimates of other decisions in how to construct yield measures from household survey microdata. Using data from three waves of the Tanzania National Panel Survey (TNPS) and two waves of the Ethiopia Socioeconomic Survey (ESS), both part of the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA), we calculate separate crop yield estimates across survey waves following different decisions on disaggregating yield by gender(s) of the plot decision-maker(s) and for pure-stand and mixed stand (intercropped) plots, on including crop production from multiple growing seasons, and on how to treat outlier observations.
An ongoing stream of EPAR research considers how public good characteristics of different types of research and development (R&D) and the motivations of different providers of R&D funding affect the relative advantages of alternative funding sources. For this project, we seek to summarize the key public good characteristics of R&D investment for agriculture in general and for different subsets of crops, and hypothesize how these characteristics might be expected to affect public, private, or philanthropic funders’ investment decisions.
By examining how farmers respond to changes in crop yield, we provide evidence on how farmers are likely to respond to a yield-enhancing intervention that targets a single staple crop such as maize. Two alternate hypotheses we examine are: as yields increase, do farmers maintain output levels but change the output mix to switch into other crops or activities, or do they hold cultivated area constant to increase their total production quantity and therefore their own consumption or marketing of the crop? This exploratory data analysis using three waves of panel data from Tanzania is part of a long-term project examining the pathways between staple crop yield (a proxy for agricultural productivity) and poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.