Characterizing smallholder farmers households

The STARS Program aims to have an impact on smallholder farmers by giving them access to credit and access to extension services.

Characterizing smallholder farmers households

Smallholders are small-scale farmers, pastoralists, who manage areas varying from less than one hectare to 10 hectares. Smallholders are characterized by family-focused motives such as favouring the stability of the farm household system, using mainly family labour for production and using part of the produce for family consumption (FAO).

The STARS Program aims to have an impact on smallholder farmers by giving them access to credit and access to extension services. But smallholder farmers are a diverse group with different needs and with diverging personal and household characteristics. In order to understand how they will differ in their take up of STARS products, we have to understand who they are, what their characteristics are and what drives them to adopt or reject new services.

Characterizing smallholder farmers

Social and economic conditions underlie farmers’ capacities and attitudes to innovation and investment. This idea has been elaborated in the smallholder context, and past research[1] identified five distinct archetypes or ‘personas’ in smallholder farming: the emerging striver, the burdened breadwinner; the community activator; the enterprising hustler and the diversified achiever. These standardized farmer types differ in their willingness and ability to adopt innovations (like mobile banking or agri-credit). 

If we look at a standard innovation adoption curve, we can see that the different farmer types are likely to coincide with different positions on the curve. Some will be quick to adopt an innovation, and some will take longer to do so:

Standard innovation adaption curve

We theorize that a struggling family supporting many dependents and relying on subsistence agriculture, may be slow to adopt for example a new credit product. And any increased income would be used to enhance household food security and pay school fees for the children. Further down the value chain a successful enterprising farmer may quickly invest in a motorcycle and processing machinery. A struggling family may lack basic agricultural skills such as planting in rows or mulching, while the more advanced, enterprising farmer may be ready to progress to more advance post-harvesting storage or processing skills. It would not be appropriate to assume a similar adoption rate for STARS products and services, or to assume that they will show a similar impact.

Differences between farmers

The STARS program look into differences between farmers, and try to understand how uptake and impact differ accordingly. Based on research1 we assume that farmers can be located on two axes that describe their willingness as well as their ability to adopt an innovation like a new agricultural credit or a fee-based service.  We theorize that the following characteristics form the extremes of a continuum:


By investigating smallholders’ household characteristics, STARS acknowledges these differences and is incorporating them in the program. For example, we can align the product development and roll-out with these farmer types, respecting the diverse priorities of households at different developmental stages as well as the barriers and catalysts to product adoption that they experience.

These extremes in household types form an analytical lens through which to investigate possible differences in uptake and impact. We expect to see more entrepreneurial farmers joining the program in the early stages, while farmers who are more traditional or risk-adverse are more likely to be late adopters. How expected program impact on income, food security and well-being may differ between these farmer types is hard to predict however.

[1] Research done by the Design Impact Group of the Dalberg Global Development Advisors institute