Decent income for poor farmers demands transformation of the sector

Published on
October 22, 2018

Many small-scale farmers in developing countries who produce for the global market and food industry live in poverty. Wageningen University & Research identified the most effective measures for large buyers to improve farmers' incomes in a sustainable way. The conclusion was that only a fundamental change in the sector could achieve this.

An extensive review of interventions to improve the incomes of small-scale farmers yielded six measures – from a list of sixteen – that have the greatest positive impact on farmers' incomes on a larger scale. Demonstrably effective measures include contract farming, climate-smart agriculture, savings groups, access to finance and producer cooperatives, and the intensive support of the poorest farmers in moving from taking care of their basic needs to full self-sufficiency (poverty graduation).

Feasible versus necessary steps

In their analysis, the researchers systematically examined how great income increases were and whether it had been proven that  increases were both practically feasible and sustainable, and how the intervention works out for female farmers. Project leader Joost Guijt of the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation explained. “’Practically feasible’ means that most farmers will benefit, not just in exceptional cases. For example, tomato growers in Nigeria could theoretically increase their yield tenfold; in practice, however, doubling or tripling their production is achievable for most producers.”

Although interventions can increase income by half or more, in many situations this is not enough. Incomes of poorer households would need to more than double to reach a decent standard of living.

Success factors

The review also identified four critical success factors for substantial income improvement: combining measures, customisation, connection and partnerships. In short, it comes down to taking the needs of farmers as the starting point, entering into long-term relationships and collaboration with governments, social organisations and companies.

Fundamental change needed

The findings were verfied in a workshop with international experts and researchers. “In essence, what it boils down to is that a fundamental change is necessary in the relationship between food producers and the supply chain; a transformation of the entire sector is needed,” explained Guijt. “Long, anonymous supply chains will need to become a thing of the past to ensure decent incomes.”

Farmer Income Lab

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) conducted the research within the framework of the 'think-do-tank' Farmer Income Lab. This is a partnership between the food company and family business Mars Inc., the development organisation Oxfam, Dalberg Advisors and WUR. WUR's researchers searched for the most effective ways in which lead firms could help ensure that small-scale farmers earn a decent income from their production activities.

Apart from Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen Economic Research and Wageningen Plant Research were also involved in the study.