GFAR blog

Capacity building: What’s in it for the smallholder farmer?


It is almost impossible to talk about agriculture without mentioning smallholder farmers. Many smallholders farm under very poor conditions and often lack access to affordable and suitable inputs such as quality seeds and pest control measures which in turn result in very low yields.  Yet, in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farmers produce most of the food consumed. It therefore is important to include them in agricultural research and policy programs.

For these farmers to increase their farms’ yields they need support in bringing them up to speed with current technologies, extension services and capital.  Researchers and scientists need to adapt to smallholder farming requirements in their research.

How can researchers and scientists create opportunities to build capacity of smallholder farmers? This question was posed in one of the sessions at GCARD3 Global Event on strengthening capacity for keeping science relevant and future focused.  Agriculture is linked to the global problems of persistent hunger and malnutrition. To get rid of these problems, we need to build capacity for the main player in this sector: the smallholder farmer.

Enabling hands-on learning and research, and evolving farmers into peer teachers to pass on the knowledge were some of the key solutions put forward.

“Easier said than done”, lamented one participant at the round table discussions that followed.

Dr. Eike Luedeling, during his presentation on decision analysis, revealed how implementing research to make impact on the ground can be a challenge. He argued that working with locals and experts on the ground at the needs analysis stage was critical to having optimum results/outcomes.  Scientists need to adapt to smallholder farming requirements and conditions that exist to ensure that extension work results in seamless uptake of their innovations/research.

In doing so, factors such as personal experiences, cultural beliefs, religion, social influences and perceptions must be taken into account. For example, according to an article by FAO, religious practices may impose patterns of behavior which may affect extension services. Certain times of day, particular days of the week or seasons of the year may be devoted to religious ceremonies, which mean that farmers are not available for farm work or for extension activities. Extension agents should be aware of this and plan around such events.

Research must take into account present farming systems which are complex; change in one aspect may create problems in others. Take for instance a maize farmer in rural Africa whose farming methods have been acquired through the generations. This farmer can be reluctant to change these methods if they are not convinced that what they are being encouraged to adopt is much better than what they are used to.

For decades now, there have been numerous initiatives to empower and advance smallholder farmers yet we keep going back to the same drawing board.  Are we barking up the wrong tree or are we barking the tree the wrong way?

Many smallholder farmers lack knowledge, skills and experiences required to participate and benefit from the whole agricultural value chain which includes research.  Thorough value chain analysis should be carried out to ensure the technologies selected for farming interventions are socially accepted and within the farmer’s technical capacity. Agricultural institutions need to provide relevant training and support to the smallholder farmers as they are the consumers of their innovations. These farmers should be empowered to increase their farming knowledge through various initiatives such as farm visits where, together with the experts, they could for instance use some corners of their farm fields for testing new technologies before implementing them.

This empowerment is done mostly through extension services. Extension agents are the link between researchers and farmers and strengthening this link, ultimately, is the only path to ensuring the smallholder farmers will take up more technologies.

Further reading: Is Agriculture Research for My Grandma?


Blogpost by Anne Wachira, #GCARD3 Social Reporters – A.Wachira(at)

Photo Credit: Peter Casier

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.

1 thought on “Capacity building: What’s in it for the smallholder farmer?”

  1. This is credible but we are leaving dryland farmers in bad situation as no mechanisms yet adapted to mitigate climate change. Most survivers in ASAL are now basically the pastoralists what do you have say for the opportunistic farmers making their way.

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