GFAR blog

How can focused science create opportunities for farmers?

During the GCARD3 process one of the major points for discussion was how can we make science relevant to farmers? Oftentimes the goals of the farmers is to make profit. Farmers are concerned with technologies that increase profit margins by reducing costs of production. Agricultural research is vital for the expansion of knowledge and development of new technologies. However unless the research outcomes meet the expectations of farmers, they might not be relevant. There are various strategies which can be used by farmers to maximise the profits.

Improved agronomic practices

Crop intensification is characterised by innovations which have potential to increase yields. The technologies include planting multiple crops per year, reducing the frequency of fallow years and using improved cultivars. These cultivars can be produced through more detailed analysis of growing conditions and the factors affecting them, including weather, soil, water, weeds and pests. Crop intensification also involves increased used of fertilisers, plant growth regulators, pesticides and improved mechanisation–all which have potential to increase productivity.

It is also possible to increase profitability through crop diversification, which refers to the addition of new crops or cropping systems to agricultural production on a particular farm. Crop diversification takes into account the different returns from value added crops with complementary opportunities. Crop diversification is intended to give a wider choice in the production of a variety of crops in a given area so as to expand production related activities on various crops and also to learn associated risks.

High value crops

Higher value crops have a potential to increase productivity. High value crops are non-staple crops such as fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals. The high value crops have a high net return per hectare of the land than staples or other widely grown crops.

Niche markets

A niche market is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focused. The market niche is defined as the product features aimed at satisfying specific needs, as well as the price range, production quality and the demographics that it is intended to impact. It is also a small market segment. According to Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), functioning markets are crucial for women smallholder farmers. Small scale farmers need access to markets to purchase agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers and to sell their produce.

Improved communication

MasAgro’s model was designed to raise productivity and yields of dry land maize and wheat production systems. It offers advice for the adoption of improved varieties to farmers. The model is used to promote sustainable practices for soil and water conservation and more efficient post-harvest technologies. Precision mobile messaging is used to keep producers informed on agronomic improvements and markets in specific geographical areas. Mobile messaging ensures site specific recommendations to farmers and avoids blanket recommendations that ignore resource status of households and geographical location.

Aggregated farming and cooperatives

Aggregated farming can be used by smallholder farmers to reach larger markets. Many smallholder farmers do not have the volume necessary to supply large markets. With aggregate farming smallholder producers can group together to get products to market faster with more freshness and with more profit.

An agricultural cooperative also known as a farmer’s co-op is a co-operative where farmers pool production and/or resources. Co-operatives are aligned to the concept of economies of scale and can be defined as a form of economic synergy where two or more agencies are working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently. One farmer might not have the means to buy machinery which may only be used irregularly. Instead, local farmers may get together to form a machinery pool that purchases the necessary equipment for all the members to use. A cooperative can act as an integrator collecting the output from members and delivering it in large aggregated quantities.


  1. Abraham, B., Araya, A., Berhe T., Edwards, S., Gujja, B., Bahadur, R., Koma, Y.S., Sen, D., Sharif, A. E., Styger, A., Uphoff, N and Verma, A. (2014). The system of crop intensification: reports from the field on improving agricultural production, food security, and resilience to climate change for multiple crops. Agriculture & Food Security 3-4.
  3. smaller-producers


Blogpost by Zira Mavunganidze, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – ziramavunganidze(at)

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

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