Innovation systems, agricultural growth and rural livelihoods in East Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev


Smallholder farming is widely seen as a potential engine for economic growth and for poverty alleviation in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers have, for centuries, demonstrated their innovativeness in taking advantage of new market opportunities and adapting new technology to their local physical and social environments. Yet the arrangements put in place by governments and others to encourage the uptake of new technology, and to improve the management of resources by smallholders, have not been particularly effective. The region's agricultural production still lags behind population growth - in contrast to all other regions of the world.

This project will explore how different institutional arrangements, within and between countries, affect the innovation activity of female and male farmers. It will then assess the impact of their innovation activity on their incomes and livelihoods, and on the local economy.
The project has four objectives.

First, it will build up a detailed picture of the institutions that support and constrain farmer innovation in Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. Each of these countries has a different history of government and non-government efforts to promote technological change and innovation among farmers; there are also differences in institutional support between regions of each country.

Second, research teams in each country will use participatory research tools to explore what this institutional landscape looks like from male and female farmers' points of view, by detailed investigation of recent innovation activity in four sites in each country and of the factors that have constrained and those that have supported innovation. From this analysis, hypotheses will be specified which link institutional arrangements, innovation activity, and changes in farm output, livelihoods, and incomes.

The third objective is to test these hypotheses using data from participatory research and a sample survey in each of the research sites. This analysis will inform the fourth objective, which is to develop evidence-based conclusions on the potential and limitations for enhancing support for smallholder farmers' innovation through new institutional arrangements and different ways of implementing support programmes at local level..

Planned Impact

The research will have a positive impact, both through the process of conducting the research and the outputs, on six sets of beneficiaries. This will be through an improved understanding of how smallholder farmer (SHF) innovation works, the impact this has on livelihoods and the local economy, and how it can be supported; and through the consequent design of policies and interventions that are likely to stimulate SHF innovation.

Government: central government in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan will have an evidence base for their ongoing efforts to improve policy support for smallholder farmers; in particular, they will have evidence of (a) how innovation processes work and what can be done, at the point of farmers' access to services, to enhance and accelerate those processes; and (b) the impact of innovation on the local economy and on livelihoods which will enable them to build a case for financial support from Treasury and donors. Local / sub-national governments in all three countries now have devolved responsibilities for provision of support services and so will also benefit from an improved evidence base to design interventions.

International and bilateral development partners will benefit from robust quantitative and qualitative evidence to inform their programmes of support to national innovation support systems (including advisory services, SME promotion, regulatory frameworks). USAID and several European countries, plus World Bank, IFAD, BMGF and others are active in this area.

Civil Society organisations (CSOs), including community based organisations and national / sub-national farmer organisations, in the three countries will benefit from evidence to support their lobbying for improved services for smallholder farmers. Some farmer organisations also provide innovation support services of their own (e.g. Uganda National Farmers Federation - UNFFE) and will be able to use the project findings to enhance their service provision. They will also benefit, along with academic stakeholders, from exposure to research and analytical methods that will inform their future investigation and commissioning of research in this area.

Non-government organisations NGOs) active in supporting smallholder farmers will have an improved evidence base to inform their own interventions and modes of working with farmer groups.

National and international research institutes in the region will have access to a richer understanding of how innovation works in practice in the smallholder sector, which will inform their future interactions with other actors in the innovation system.
Private sector: smallholder farmers will indirectly benefit from improved innovation support policies and interventions (from government, development partners, CSOs, NGOs) that are evidence based and more attuned to the ways in which they seek support in their innovation and farm / livelihood decision making.


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Description The research revealed multiple pathways through which innovation happens on smallholder farms. Understanding the notion of 'uptake' is important to be able to elucidate the actual processes that are involved in establishing productivity enhancing change at farm level, so that effective policies and interventions can be designed to support smallholders. This research found that the understanding of how farmers 'uptake' technology and innovation from an institutional ('top-down') perspective is very different from the reality of how farmer's experience and perceive innovation on their farms and in their communities. Whilst key informants and literature continually refer to 'uptake' as a linear transferal of technology, the experience of farmers is very different and much more nuanced. Farmers are actively looking to improve their livelihoods and their individual farm enterprises and, rather than being passive acceptors of technology, they seek, adapt and improve technologies to fit their own individual context. Men and women smallholder farmers innovate through different processes of innovation and using different technologies (some by choice and some due to the influence of policies / intervention, or changes in operating environment), influenced by factors of social differentiation such as age, marital status and community standing. The main constraints to innovation are input and output markets, lack of reliable information and lack of support systems.
Another key finding from the research is that smallholder farmers' propensity to innovate leads to measurable differences in income and expenditure at household and local economy level. In addition, smallholder farmer innovations drive important improvements in individual and household welfare and quality of life. These outcomes can sometimes benefit women more than men. The combination of monetary and non-monetary essential benefits in different contexts and with different patterns of social differentiation warrants further research as does understanding the way that farmer innovations are linked in often complementary and supporting ways in the household.
The methodology used during this research is novel and was successful. The research process started with inductive methods that developed hypotheses and led to deductive investigation. This was done using both participatory qualitative and quantitative methods alongside survey-based quantitative methods that covered multiple research paradigms. The approach included the generation of new and adaptation of existing participatory methods that have been specifically developed to support this research process. The combination of participatory methods has allowed for critical and analytical farmer perspectives that are different from the institutional perspectives that are frequently heard and that came across from formal key informant interviews.
The research team built capacity by providing specific training and research experience to staff and students (research and taught) at Makerere University, University of Nairobi and Afhad University for Women. This training and field experience has led to the use of the participatory tools in other proposed and funded research involving project partners in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan (both with and without the University of Reading). The tools used in both inductive and deductive research have also been integrated into curricula of partner universities.
Exploitation Route Findings from this project have already informed policy discussions led by the FAO and will continue to input into an ongoing plan of action by FAO considering the role of communications in smallholder agriculture. This is led by the FAO office for partnerships, advocacy and capacity development.
Makerere University partners are providing leadership to the Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services, which has been assigned the task of drafting the national Agricultural Extension Ethics and Standards for the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries. This policy document will be used to regulate extension services in the country. The findings of this study have informed development of ethics for supporting farmer innovation.
University of Nairobi partners will draw on and share findings form this project in their involvement in ReSAKSS (Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System) to improve agricultural policy processes in Kenya, i.e. structuring the involvement of various stakeholders (including farmers) under the bigger umbrella of CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme). We actively engaged with policy makers in each country at the outset of the project and will continue to share key findings with them. Specific organisations and projects have expressed interest in the project findings e.g. the German Development Cooperation funded project called Innovation Transfer into Agriculture - Adaptation to Climate Change (ITAACC) implemented by ICIPE, and the Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture/ AIRCA in Kenya. Findings have and will continue to be shared at international conferences and meetings and through other mechanisms.
In relation to the agricultural sector, the findings contribute to the policy debate on 'big agriculture' vs 'small agriculture'. Given the appropriate institutions and environment smallholder farmers have shown themselves ready to use a range of innovations, including 'high-tech' bioscience derived innovations. Together with findings on the effects of innovation, this indicates that smallholder farmers have a role to play in developing more food secure, agriculture-based, economic growth in rural areas and to contributing to household welfare in ways that 'big agriculture' cannot. Importantly the findings can be used to design better institutional support structures for smallholders and smallholder innovation. These findings are of value to and can be taken forward by international development partners and governments as well as NGOs and research organisations.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink

Communities and Social Services/Policy



Description Project recommendations, developed from the project findings, formed part of final recommendations from the FAO Forum on Communication for Community Media for Family Farming in Rome October 2014 . In addition recommendations were included in FAO International Year of Family Farming event in October 2014. Project recommendations also fed into the FAO Forum on Communication for Community Media for Family Farming regional meeting in Accra, Ghana in August 2015. FAO continue to consult (in 2016) re communication approaches and drawing on the findings from this project. Makerere University in Uganda who were partners in the project, have been providing leadership to the Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services, which has been assigned the task of drafting the national Agricultural Extension Ethics and Standards for the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries and have drawn on findings and experience from this project.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Project recommendations formed part of final recommendations from FAO Forum on Communication for Development & Community Media for Family Farming in Rome October 2014. Recommendations included in FAO International Year of Family Farming event.
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Title Methods used in other projects and initiatives 
Description A set of participatory decision making and research tools for use with farmers in developing countries 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Researchers in collaborating institutions in Uganda and Kenya have been using the tools in research projects and have been teaching the methods to students 
Description Engagement with policy makers in FAO 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Following participation in a workshop, continued engagement and dialogue has occurred with key policy makers on the outputs of this project. This has led to us jointly working with FAO on a policy document. The document is to be launched later in 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015