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Q&A with Dr. Boris Bravo-Ureta: Southern Africa Pre-Harvest Value Chain Analysis

By Emily Urban

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

Background

Dr. Boris Bravo-Ureta is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Connecticut and a Visiting Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Talca in Chile. He is currently leading a project with the Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab (PMIL) titled "Southern Africa Pre-harvest Value Chain Analysis". In addition, he also is involved with two additional PMIL projects: "Peanut Varietal Development" and "Ghana Peanut Value Chain Interventions."

PMIL: As a basic introduction, what are the overall objectives of your lead project?

Dr. Bravo-Ureta: "Our overall objective is to complete farm-level analyses in our focus countries of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, to develop a better understanding of the economics of groundnut production within the farm link of the value chain. This effort also includes examining the impact of improved groundnut varieties compared to traditional varieties. Simply, and perhaps more generally, we are trying to better understand and compare the relationship between poverty and productivity in these regions.

Furthermore, we are creating a system to organize data across our various target countries and partner projects, including data generated in trials performed in partnership with collaborating farmers as well as trials conducted by various experiment stations. Using this system, we will generate economic analyses of improved varieties and different farm-level practices that will allow for the comparison of features such as yields and profitability across countries and thus contribute to broadly informed recommendations."

PMIL: What is the current stage of this project?

Dr. Bravo Ureta: "Right now we are finishing a farm-level survey in Ghana as part of (North Carolina State University professor and PMIL scientist) David Jordan’s project, Ghana Peanut Value Chain Interventions, which will serve as a diagnostic baseline for the research, and preparing for an analogous data collection exercise in Mozambique starting June 2016. In Ghana, we worked with the local team to design and test the survey instrument according to the needs of the region, which will be adjusted accordingly for implementation in Mozambique. The data collected will serve mainly as a diagnostic to determine the practices being done at the farm level in the respective countries and regions. In addition to the survey questionnaire, peanut samples are taken in Ghana to measure aflatoxin levels."

PMIL: How will the project in Ghana help to inform your upcoming project in Mozambique?

Dr. Bravo-Ureta: "We will be processing the data and fieldwork from Ghana over the coming months and will produce a preliminary analysis. This will help to inform our farm-level survey in Mozambique. While local collaborating groups and in-country host institutions have their own key interests for the survey, our goal is to keep the surveys among our focus countries as similar as possible to allow for clear and direct country-to-country comparisons."

PMIL: What impacts do you hope these projects will ultimately have?

Dr. Bravo-Ureta: "The fundamental proposition is to increase productivity through the use of improved varieties and other practices. In addition, there is a need to generate and disseminate knowledge to produce a high quality product, specifically in regards to reducing aflatoxin contamination. Economic analysis is critical in gauging if certain efforts are expected to be more profitable to farmers: our key aim. Above all, while generating knowledge may be our primary task in these research projects, it is also critical that the interventions to be recommended will be useful and relevant to the farmers who will ultimately decide whether or not to implement the proposed techniques and practices.

These projects are short-term and relatively small in scope, so working with collaborators in the countries is critical. The long-term adoption and diffusion process of these techniques is beyond the scope of our work, and as such it is essential for local agencies to foster in-country capacity building, which is facilitated through our intensive short-term collaborations."

PMIL: What have been some of the biggest challenges with this project?

Dr. Bravo-Ureta: "One of the greatest challenges for us has been establishing projects in countries where we have never previously worked. As demands and focuses shift, so do our focus countries. You cannot start a project from the U.S. in collaboration with host country scientists overnight; it takes time to lay a foundation. One needs to get to know the people, the location, and build relationships with collaborators. New challenges arise and these types of things take time to resolve, and the short duration of these projects adds to these challenges.

From another angle, we are very fortunate to be working with great colleagues in our project countries. They are always eager to get to work, and as with many initiatives these projects are a team effort."

PMIL: Any interesting, relevant findings yet?

Dr. Bravo-Ureta: "While we are still in the data collection phase of this project, two trends in particular are surfacing through existing data and our own findings. Overall, (1) improved varieties have been associated with significant productivity gains and increased potential profitability, and (2) working with the resources and technology that the farmers already have access to can increase benefits if the inefficiency gaps we are measuring can be narrowed. These findings suggest that there is great potential to increase productivity not only by adopting improved varieties and practices, but also by improving managerial performance at the farm level."

PMIL: In your opinion (and from your experiences) why are peanuts such an important focus crop for smallholder farmers in the project countries?

Dr. Bravo-Ureta: "Interestingly enough this question comes up often with friends and colleagues when I tell them about the work we have been doing. From the time I have spent on this type of work, it is clear that the peanut, or groundnuts as they are called in many of our collaborating countries, has become an integral part of the culture and cuisine. This crop grows well in these countries and has multiple benefits. It can improve soil quality through aeration and nitrogen fixation, and because of this farmers often use groundnuts in rotations with maize or other crops.

In terms of consumption, given the high oil content, groundnuts are typically used to make sauces, they are also roasted, boiled, or eaten fresh. They are a good source of protein and minerals in the diet, and in this way are important in combating malnutrition. At market, the pod structure makes it convenient for storage and sale. They can have a long shelf life and do not require much in the way of packaging. It is amazing to see the local market sellers with their peanuts perfectly sorted by size and shape in order to balance an entire basin upon their head and transport them to and from market."

PMIL would like to thank Dr. Bravo-Ureta for his continued efforts to support our mission of improving peanut production and use and increasing food safety in our partner countries.

Published November 20, 2015