Poor farmers: Agricultural innovation and poverty reduction in Ethiopia and Kenya

Simone Verkaart

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Despite decades worth of research there is still much debate on the role of smallholder farmers in agricultural development. This research aims to contribute to insights on the potential of technology transfer interventions to contribute to poverty reduction for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Kenya and Ethiopia. By better understanding how farmers decide whether and to what extent to adopt technology, agricultural development projects can be refined to increase their effectiveness.

Chapter 1 provides a general introduction and overview of the adoption literature, introduces the study areas and outlines the objectives, research questions and methodologies applied to answer them. The other chapters are individual publications that form the core part of this thesis.

Chapter 2 explores rainfed agriculture’s potential as a pathway from poverty through a comparative study of Embu and Kitui districts in eastern Kenya. It concludes that agricultural intensification appears a pathway from poverty in high-potential rainfed agriculture, while income diversification seems a more realistic strategy in low-potential areas. This highlights the importance of agro-ecological context and livelihood strategies for potential uptake and benefits of new technology.

Chapter 3 explores rural aspirations in Kenya to derive lessons for agricultural innovation and transfer. Though few households specialized in farming, many households self-identified as farmers and aspired to increase their agricultural income. However, few households wanted their children to pursue a future in farming. Combining aspirations with potential to invest, we provide suggestions for targeting agricultural interventions. These findings indicate that we need to start listening better to those people we call ‘farmers’ to develop and offer innovations that meet their realities.

Chapter 4 studies the conditions that led to the remarkable and rapid spread of improved chickpea varieties in Ethiopia: from 30 to 80 percent of households in seven years. The promotion of an attractive technology suitable for rural Ethiopian households in a conducive environment enabled adoption. This suggests that agricultural development interventions could be improved by paying greater ex-ante attention to potential factors of success and failure. This will ensure that agricultural innovations fit the realities and demands of rural households to ultimately design and deploy more successful interventions.

Chapter 5 assesses the impact of improved chickpea adoption on welfare in Ethiopia using three rounds of panel data. Applying a fixed effects instrumental variables approach, predicted area under cultivation from a double hurdle model is used as an instrument for observed area under cultivation. Improved chickpea adoption significantly increases household income while also reducing household poverty. Adoption favoured all but the largest landholders, for who the new technology did not have a significant impact on income. Overall, increasing access to improved chickpea appears a promising pathway for rural development in Ethiopia.

Chapter 6 estimates a correlated random coefficient model to analyse heterogeneity to improved chickpea yields and returns. The technology has been widely adopted, despite limited yield impacts when controlling for observables and heterogeneity. Farmers’ comparative advantage was not found to play a significant role in their adoption decisions. It is hypothesized that this is due to the overall high economic returns to adoption. The findings suggest that a focus on yield-increasing technologies may, in some contexts, be misguided.

Chapter 7 discusses the main findings derived from the individual studies, their implications and limitations, and provides suggestions for future research. It juxtaposes the various findings of the two main case studies by exploring the meanings behind the title ‘poor farmers’. This shows that it is crucial to distinguish between ‘poor farmers’, in terms of household welfare, and ‘poor farmers’, in terms of agricultural performance. My findings suggest that poor farmers can benefit from agricultural research for development interventions, but that this requires the promotion of profitable innovations that fit their context and aspirations.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Bulte, Erwin, Promotor
  • Giller, Ken, Promotor
Award date1 Jun 2018
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463438674
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


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