Food Security

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 27–48 | Cite as

Getting the focus right: production constraints for six major food crops in Asian and African farming systems

  • Stephen R. Waddington
  • Xiaoyun Li
  • John Dixon
  • Glenn Hyman
  • M. Carmen de Vicente
Original Paper


To determine the most important production constraints and associated yield losses for six major food crops in 13 farming systems with high poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and East Asia, surveys were conducted with 672 experts representing a diversity of backgrounds and experience. Respondents reported large gaps between highest achieved crop yield on smallholder farms and average yield on farm. Yield gaps were smallest for rice (about 60% of current average smallholder farm grain yields), mid size for wheat and cassava, and larger (sometimes double current farm yields) for sorghum, cowpea and chickpea. Gaps were also smaller in the high input and yield farming systems of East Asia and largest in the marginal, drier systems, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Four categories of production constraint (abiotic, biotic, management and socio-economic) were considered important contributors to yield gaps. A diversity of specific constraints was reported for the crops in the different systems. The most severe and widespread specific constraints for wheat involved the deficiency, high cost and poor management of N fertilizer, and problems associated with drought stress at grain filling, mid season drought and irrigation management. Those for rice included N fertilizer problems, soil fertility depletion, various leaf, stem and head pests and diseases, weed competition and inadequate water management. Striga and weed competition, soil resource degradation, poor soil fertility management, and drought were the most severe specific constraints for sorghum. Insect pests of pod, leaf, stem and flower and the high cost of their control dominated the constraint set for cowpea. Helicoverpa pod borer, Botrytis grey mould and control costs were the most severe for chickpea. Unsuitable varieties/poor seed, soil infertility and fertilizer constraints were also widespread with the legumes. Marketing problems and lack of finance were concerns for cassava along with weed competition, African cassava mosaic virus and poor varieties/planting materials. The findings can help to inform priority setting for international agricultural research and development activities on important food crops in major farming systems occupying areas of high poverty.


Crop production constraints Food crops Poverty Smallholder farming systems Yield gap 



We thank the 672 panelists that provided the crop and system constraints data for this study. We also thank the regional focal persons and others for their invaluable help with organizing responses from panelists. Focal persons included Arun Joshi, Jagadish Timsina, Enamul Haque, Lal Amgain, and He Zhonghu in Asia; Shephard Siziba, Victor Okoruwa, Patrice Adégbola, Wondwossen Tsegaye, Fasil Kelemework and Franklin Simtowe in Africa. Federico Carrion of CIMMYT ITAU was responsible for much of the data input and management. David Gibbon reviewed the complete report on which this paper is based. The study was commissioned and funded by the CGIAR Generation Challenge Program Sub Program 5 on Capacity Building and Enabling Delivery.

Supplementary material

12571_2010_53_MOESM1_ESM.doc (274 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 274 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. & International Society for Plant Pathology 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen R. Waddington
    • 1
  • Xiaoyun Li
    • 1
  • John Dixon
    • 2
  • Glenn Hyman
    • 3
  • M. Carmen de Vicente
    • 4
  1. 1.CIMMYT Impacts Targeting and Assessment UnitTexcocoMéxico
  2. 2.Australian Centre for International Agricultural ResearchCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.CIATCaliColombia
  4. 4.CGIAR Generation Challenge ProgramCIMMYTMéxico

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