Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

More Knowledge Needed? Success Factors in Working with Farmer Groups

In May, Agrilinks featured experts and members’ experience working with farmer groups and cooperatives (check out the May Ask Ag Online Chat and Ag Sector Council Seminar). Ultimately, the importance and need for high quality, comprehensive evidence about what works (and what doesn’t work) when engaging farmer groups is needed. (Examples from Ethiopia and Kenya.) Importantly, such research needs to be creatively documented and shared in actionable ways so that practitioners can integrate it easily into their work.

There is a general consensus that working with aggregated farmer groups makes sense for efficiently delivering training and services to rural, hard-to-reach farmers. Farmer aggregation also makes entry into local, regional and global markets more accessible when agricultural products from multiple farmers are bundled. It also helps with financing mechanisms that help phase out dependency-creating hand-outs. Indeed, successful interventions that include farmer groups as a central tenant are numerous.

Though the rationale is sound, the challenges to aggregating farmer groups are innumerable. There are issues with sustainability when groups are created from outside interventions rather than from farmers’ self-organization. Political contexts that make local and national governments skeptical of farmer groups can hinder farmers’ visions of their groups. Administrative costs within farmer groups alongside the realities of illiteracy and minimal education also block farmer groups from expanding as organized business units.

What remains a mystery in most cases is what the determinants are to working successfully with farmer groups. More studies, coupled with robust discussion and the dissection of findings, are needed to help practitioners better understand the environments within which farmer groups can thrive and where it does not make sense to work with farmer groups. Importantly, when deploying any type of farmer-focused agricultural training, it is important to factor in context and needs.

Generalized assumptions about farmer groups, cooperatives and/or for-profit service providers are dangerous. Assessments and research (particularly if conducted at the outset of projects), in concert with understanding local and national government policies and practices, can point the way towards existing structures that are best suited to working directly with farmers for development purposes.

For more information, check out some of the resources shared throughout the May events:

Some creative ways to potentially "curate" research:

  • Case studies: Choose an illustrative case that clarifies the generalizable finding, such as a value chain case or a community profile. Use story-telling to make the ideas "stick" in the reader's mind. Here is a great writing guide, and here is great information about how to use case studies in evaluation.
  • Integrate qualitative data collection to inform your case studies: Purposefully collecting illustrative examples as part of ongoing qualitative data collection can be helpful to share research findings and produce them. Check out the Most Significant Change method.
  • Infographics: Understand what infographics are and get tips for when to use them.
  • Presentations: Presentations, both in-person and through webinar technology, are often used to disseminate findings. Maximize your presentations by using tips and tricks of the trade using this summary slidedoc