Characterising the diversity of smallholder farming systems and their constraints and opportunities for innovation: A case study from the Northern Region, Ghana

K.S. Kuivanen, S. Alvarez, M. Michalscheck, S. Adjei-Nsiah, K. Descheemaeker, S. Mellon-Bedi, J.C.J. Groot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Typologies may be used as tools for dealing with farming system heterogeneity. This is achieved by classifying farms into groups that have common characteristics, i.e. farm types, which can support the implementation of a more tailored approach to agricultural development. This article explored patterns of farming system diversity through the classification of 70 smallholder farm households in two districts (Savelugu-Nanton and Tolon-Kumbungu) of Ghana's Northern Region. Based on 2013 survey data, the typology was constructed using the multivariate statistical techniques of principal component analysis and cluster analysis. Results proposed six farm types, stratified on the basis of household, labour, land use, livestock and income variables, explaining the structural and functional differences between farming systems. Types 1 and 2 were characterized by relatively high levels of resource endowment and oriented towards non-farm activities and crop sales respectively. Types 3 and 4 were moderately resource-endowed with income derived primarily from on-farm activities. Types 5 and 6 were resource constrained, with production oriented towards subsistence. The most salient differences among farm types concerned herd size (largest for Type 1), degree of legume integration (largest for Types 2-4), household size and hired labour (smallest household size for Types 4 and 6, and largest proportion of hired labour for Type 4), degree of diversification into off/non-farm activities (highest for Type 1 and lowest for Type 5) and severity of resource constraints (Type 6 was most constrained with a small farm area and herd comprised mainly of poultry). It was found that livelihood strategies reflected the distinctive characteristics of farm households; with poorly-endowed types restricted to a 'survival strategy' and more affluent types free to pursue a 'development strategy'. This study clearly demonstrates that using the established typology as a practical framework allows identification of type-specific farm household opportunities and constraints for the targeting of agricultural interventions and innovations, which will be further analysed in the research-for-development project. We conclude that a more flexible approach to typology construction, for example through the incorporation of farmer perspectives, might provide further context and insight into the causes, consequences and negotiation of farm diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-166
JournalNJAS Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Diversity
  • Farming systems
  • Ghana
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Typology

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