Investments in this strategy aim to improve smallholder access to information on agronomic methods, weather, pricing, storage, inputs, and other key decision-making factors through trainings, technical assistance, internet- or mobile-based resources. The sections below include an overview of the strategy for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, core metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.

What

Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What is the problem the investment is trying to address? For the people experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Smallholder farmers in emerging markets often have limited access to training or information regarding agronomic methods, available input options, weather, pricing, and other key factors used to decide how to cultivate land and market agricultural products. Meanwhile, by the year 2050, required calories worldwide will increase by an estimated 70%; production by smallholder farmers will be increasingly critical to feed the ever-growing global population (3). However, smallholder yields and quality are often low, farmers may be poorly connected to markets, and weather and other risks limit their production. Improved access to technical assistance and information can increase smallholder sales and productivity in various ways, including the following:

  • Smallholders can increase yields by using improved cultivation, harvest, and crop-storage methods.
  • Smallholders can learn how to effectively diversify their product offerings to include more resilient, more complementary crops that may reduce their risk or increase their overall income.
  • Access to real-time information, such as weather forecasts or market comparisons, can help smallholder farmers mitigate risk and access better pricing for their products.
  • By consistently selling their products at higher prices, smallholders contribute to stronger, more diverse markets and reduce upstream risk for buyers and other actors in the value chain.
  • These factors combined can contribute to building stronger local and international economies. Through increased access to information and training, smallholders can contribute to increased food security and community resilience.

What is the scale of the problem?

With 450 million smallholder farmers worldwide, the potential breadth of impact depends on the number of these farmers who lack steady access to information or training on updated methods and inputs, delivered either in person or via technology. Though robust estimates for the numbers of farmers able to receive information-focused improvements do not exist, 10% of people around the world have no access to mobile phones with basic voice and text services, and one-third lack access to mobile broadband internet (4).

Who

Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who/What is helped through this strategy?

Low-Income, Farm-Dependent Households: Over two billion of the world’s poorest individuals live in households that depend on agriculture for income and nutrition (1). Low-income smallholder farmers, who often rely on traditional or short-term methods of agriculture, may not have access to guidance on agronomic advances. Through companies and technologies (such as radio or mobile phones) that offer training and informational resources at accessible price points, low-income farmers can improve their farming practices and increase their yields and income.

Rural Farmers: Many smallholder farmers in rural communities lack the same access to a range of information on agronomy and markets that their peri-urban or urban counterparts may have. Investments that bridge this information gap—through ‘farmer schools,’ training, or information offered via mobile phone, radio, or other means—can help rural farmers improve their farming practices, avoid unnecessary risk, and access markets at times when pricing is most advantageous.

Natural Resources: Smallholders manage 80% of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia (2). When under financial pressure, smallholder farmers often resort to short-term agronomic methods—slash-and-burn agriculture, intensive monoculture, and illegal logging—that degrade the natural resources and ecosystems they cultivate. Increasing smallholders’ knowledge of equally effective, more sustainable methods can strengthen and support farmers’ ability to manage nutrients and ecosystems.

What are the geographic attributes of those who benefit?

Most of the world’s 450 million smallholder farmers live in Asia, with smaller numbers in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa, and most are in rural locations, though some are also peri-urban or urban (1).

Contribution

Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

Is the investment’s contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How Much and Who?

An investment in this strategy will likely make greater contributions through a multi-exposure intervention; behavioral change communication strategies through print and radio have shown modest success in increasing uptake of positive agronomic methods in Tanzania, while ‘Farmer Schools’ and other means of long-form technical assistance have shown increases in knowledge of complex agricultural relationships and methods (5, 6). Increasing beneficiaries’ access to information and uptake of more effective practices would make an investment’s impact better than what would likely occur without it. Of course, the extent to which this strategy can improve farmers’ access to training and information depends on the investee business and the product they are bringing to market.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many can receive the outcome through this strategy?

Of the roughly 450 million smallholder farms worldwide, most could benefit from increased information availability. However, outcomes will vary widely based on farmers’ knowledge retention and implementation of improved methods. Models that address local smallholder constraints and are linked to additional services (such as financing, access to seeds and equipment, and insurance) will likely reach more farmers than those offered independently.

How much change can beneficiaries experience through this strategy?

The amount of change that beneficiaries derive from this strategy depends on the information or training made accessible, whether that product mitigates gaps in smallholder knowledge over the long term, and whether farmers then shift their practices toward more effective strategies. Access to comprehensive information on agronomic practice, weather, pricing, and other key data points, especially if complemented by improved input offerings, stronger links to financing, or technical assistance, can increase yields, raise incomes, and strengthen community resilience, as in the following examples:

  • A relatively low-touch training generated USD 17.55 in new profit per farmer, according to one study, representing a 10% increase in annual agricultural profit compared to non-participating farmers (7).
  • Farmers with access to mobile phone-based information services increased their cumin yields by 48 kilograms per acre (28%), achieving greater household profits than a comparison group by more than USD 200 (16%) over the two-year study (8).

Illustrative Investment

Reuters Market Light services over 200,000 smallholder subscribers in 10 different states in India at a monthly cost of USD 1.50. The farmers receive 4-5 SMS messages per day concerning prices, commodities, and advisory services from a database with information on 150 crops and more than 1,000 markets. Preliminary evidence suggests that, collectively, the service may have generated USD 2–3 billion in income for farmers, more than half of whom have reduced their spending on agriculture inputs.

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

NESTA: 3
Comprehensive Impact Report

One Acre Fund. “Comprehensive Impact Report.” September 2016.

NESTA: 2
Samarth - Nepal Market Development Programme (NMDP) Annual Results Report Year 4

Nepal Market Development Programme (NMDP). ““Samarth – Nepal Market Development Programme (NMDP) annual results report year 2.”“ 2014.

NESTA: 2
Alliances KK Synthesis Report of the First Phase

Alliances KK. Synthesis Report of the First Phase: September 2011-September 2013.

NESTA: 1
Agricultural Productivity and Poverty Reduction: Linkages and Pathways

Schneider. K and M. K. Gugerty (2011). Agricultural Productivity and Poverty Reduction: Linkages and Pathways. The Evans school Review, Vol. 1(1): 56-74.

NESTA: 2
Education and Lasting Access to Fertiliser: How Nigerian Smallholders and Businesses Are Prospering Together

Springfield Centre. “Education and lasting access to fertiliser: how Nigerian smallholders and businesses are prospering together.” 2014.

NESTA: 1
The Effects of Training, Innovation and New Technology on African Smallholder Farmers' Wealth and Food Security: A Systematic Review

Stewart, Ruth, Laurenz Langer, Natalie Rebelo Da Silva, Evans Muchiri, Hazel Zaranyika, Yvonne Erasmus, Nicola Randall et al. “The Effects of Training, Innovation and New Technology on African Smallholder Farmers’ Wealth and Food Security: A Systematic Review.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 11, no. 16 (2015).

NESTA: 3
Impact of Information and Communication Technology-Based Market Information Services on Smallholder Farm Input Use and Productivity: The Case of Kenya

Ogutu, Sylvester Ochieng, Julius Juma Okello, and David Jakinda Otieno. “Impact of information and communication technology-based market information services on smallholder farm input use and productivity: The case of Kenya.” World Development 64 (2014): 311-321.

NESTA: 1
Working with Smallholders: A Handbook for Firms Building Sustainable Supply Chains

International Finance Corporation. (2013). Working with Smallholders: A Handbook for Firms Building Sustainable Supply Chains

NESTA: 3
Finding Missing Markets (And A Disturbing Epilogue): Evidence from an Export Crop Adoption and Marketing Intervention in Kenya

Ashraf, N., Giné, X., & Karlan, D. (2009). Finding missing markets (and a disturbing epilogue): Evidence from an export crop adoption and marketing intervention in Kenya. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 91(4), 973- 990.

NESTA: 3
A Randomized Impact Evaluation of Village Savings and Loans Associations and Family-Based Interventions in Burundi

Annan, Jeannie, Tom Bundervoet, Juliette Seban, and Jaime Costigan. “A randomized impact evaluation of village savings and loans associations and family-based interventions in Burundi.” New York: International Rescue Committee (2013).

NESTA: 1
A Review of Existing Organisational Forms of Smallholder Farmers ’ Associations and their Contractual Relationships with other Market Participants in the East and Southern African ACP Region

Poole, N., & de Frece, A. (2010). A Review of Existing Organisational Forms of Smallholder Farmers ’ Associations and their Contractual Relationships with other Market Participants in the East and Southern African ACP Region. All ACP Agricultural Commodities Programme Paper Series – No.11 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), (11).

NESTA: 3
Tuning In The Market Signal: The Impact of Market Price Information on Agricultural Outcomes

Svensson, Jakob, and David Yanagizawa Drott. “Tuning in the market signal: the impact of market price information on agricultural outcomes.” Document de Travail (2010).

NESTA: 2
Do Farmers Benefit from Participating in Specialty Markets and Cooperatives? The Case of Coffee Marketing in Costa Rica

Wollni, Meike, and Manfred Zeller. “Do farmers benefit from participating in specialty markets and cooperatives? The case of coffee marketing in Costa Rica1.“Agricultural Economics37, no. 2‐3 (2007): 243-248.

NESTA: 2
Consumption Risk, Technology Adoption, and Poverty Traps: Evidence from Ethiopia

Dercon, S., and L. Christiaensen. 2007. “Consumption Risk, Technology Adoption, and Poverty Traps: Evidence from Ethiopia.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, , (4257).

NESTA: 3
Effects of a Participatory Agriculture and Nutrition Education Project on Child Growth in Northern Malawi

Kerr, Rachel Bezner, Peter R. Berti, and Lizzie Shumba. “Effects of a participatory agriculture and nutrition education project on child growth in northern Malawi.” Public health nutrition 14, no. 8 (2011): 1466-1472.

NESTA: 2
Building Bridges: Value Initiative Program in Jamaica

Morgan, Beverly and Nicardo Neil. “Building Bridges: Value Initiative Program in Jamaica.” SEEP Network, 2012.

NESTA: 2
Engaging Smallholders in Value Chains: Creating New Opportunities for Beekeepers in Ethiopia

Anand, Shekhar, and Gizachew Sisay. “Engaging Smallholders in Value Chains: Creating new opportunities for beekeepers in Ethiopia.” Oxfam Policy and Practice: Agriculture, Food and Land11, no. 4 (2011): 74-88.

NESTA: 3
Linking Small-Scale Vegetable Farmers To Supermarkets: Effectiveness Assessment Of The GMED India Project

Dunn, E., H. Schiff, and L. Greevey. Linking small-scale vegetable farmers to supermarkets: effectiveness assessment of the GMED India project. No. 166. Micro Report, 2011.

NESTA: 3
Impact of Modern Agricultural Technologies on Smallholder Welfare: Evidence from Tanzania and Ethiopia

Asfaw, Solomon, Bekele Shiferaw, Franklin Simtowe, and Leslie Lipper. “Impact of modern agricultural technologies on smallholder welfare: Evidence from Tanzania and Ethiopia.” Food policy 37, no. 3 (2012): 283-295.

NESTA: 2
Improving Public Agricultural Extension Services in Bangladesh using the M4P approach

Nippard, Daniel. “Improving public agricultural extension services in Bangladesh using the M4P approach.” Katalyst, 2014.

NESTA: 4
Farmer Field School: A Synthesis of 25 Impact Evaluations

Van den Berg, Henk, and IPM Farmer Field Schools. “A synthesis of 25 impact evaluations.” Wageningen University, Rome: Global IPM facility53 (2004).

NESTA: 1
An Integrated Evaluation of Strategies for Enhancing Productivity and Profitability of Resource-Constratined Smallholder Farms in Zimbabwe

Zingore, S., E. González-Estrada, R. J. Delve, Mario Herrero, John P. Dimes, and Ken E. Giller. “An integrated evaluation of strategies for enhancing productivity and profitability of resource-constrained smallholder farms in Zimbabwe.” Agricultural systems 101, no. 1 (2009): 57-68.

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.