These women in Salima District, Malawi, boil groundnuts athome and carry their tubs to the Siyasiya roadside market. Photo: Swathi Sridharan
06
Jul

Who are those people we call farmers?

Agricultural interventions should match household aspirations

Just about six percent of rural households in Kenya, aspire for their children to become farmers. This is highlighted through a recent study that interviewed 624 rural households from Embu and Kitui in eastern Kenya.

The study found however, that 65% households hoped to increase their farm incomes. Closely linked to a recently published theoretical paper on the importance of aspirations, this publication focuses on household aspirations to understand its link to the potential for technology adoption.

Rural households are diverse and it is essential to carefully differentiate them. When technologies are developed and released, it is important to recognize that not all rural households’ first priority is to increase farm productivity, but that the lived reality is complex. The choice of technologies depends on a household’s potential to invest and also on its long-term aspirations.

Keeping this diversity in mind, labelling all households engaged in some form of farm activity as ‘farmers’ may create a mismatch between demand and technology development.

These women in Salima District, Malawi, boil groundnuts athome and carry their tubs to the Siyasiya roadside market. Photo:  Swathi Sridharan

These women in Salima District, Malawi, boil groundnuts athome and carry their tubs to the Siyasiya roadside market. Photo: Swathi Sridharan

Rural household diversity and aspirations

It is in this context, that considering non-farm aspirations of rural communities is very important. These aspirations may influence household perceptions of the relative value of agricultural innovations and also their adoption choices.

While only 6% of the households interviewed, hoped for a future in farming for their children, their contrasting personal aspirations and investment plans mostly involve expansion or intensification of farming. Even wealthier households might not have the long-term aspirations needed for investments in certain practices that provide delayed benefits e.g. soil fertility management.

There are also implications for changes in land use patterns currently characterized by high levels of land fragmentation and densely populated areas. If households increasingly step out of farming, would this reverse the trend and enable consolidation of land for the next generation, e.g., through people selling / renting out their land? Or is the cultural attachment to land too strong, hindering land consolidation leading to agricultural areas become even more fragmented into smaller plots, unable to produce excess food for sale to feed a burgeoning population? If the cultural attachment and safety net considerations dominate, then would more comprehensive government safety net programs overcome this and enable land consolidation?

How can research consider the future of smallholder farmers?

What are the implications for agricultural research, global development goals and food security of the nation and its poorest members with limited alternatives?

The approach of looking at agriculture as an engine for growth is not enough. With better understanding of complex rural livelihoods, agricultural research and development can improve the targeting of interventions towards the most appropriate households and support their needs more effectively.

The authors hope that the sector will more actively consider the implications of rural household diversity, especially their aspirations for research and interventions. They recommend listening more closely to the ‘farmers’ to offer solutions that meet their aspirations and realities.

Sadza, made out of maize meal, is a staple food in Zimbabwe Photo: Swathi Sridharan,

Sadza, made out of maize meal, is a staple food in Zimbabwe Photo: Swathi Sridharan,

Findings from this research have been published by Development in Practice, Who are those people we call farmers? Rural Kenyan aspirations and realities

The research was funded by the CGIAR Research Programs – Dryland Systems and Policies, Institutions and Markets, ICRISAT and the Netherlands Junior Professional Officer Programme.

About the authors

Simone Verkaart – Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Manager for the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP). This research was conducted during her time as JPO with ICRISAT Nairobi.

Kai Mausch – Senior Economist at the Worldagroforestry Centre and previously Senior Scientist at ICRISAT Nairobi

Dave Harris – Honorary Fellow at ICRISAT, Senior Research Fellow at Bangor University, previously Senior Advisor to the Research Methods Group at the World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi

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