Farmer networks and the adoption of agricultural innovations in East Africa
Item statusPublication issues
Embargo end date17/08/2024
The adoption of agricultural innovations is limited across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) which has resulted in low levels of productivity and exacerbated food security concerns. As a result, it is a key priority of many African governments to develop their agricultural sectors through the promotion of new agricultural technologies. Previous attempts at agricultural development in SSA have had limited success, with many of the failures being attributed to the traditional top-down model in which research bodies and governments act as teachers and farmers are their students. The failure of this model has resulted in a new paradigm of agricultural innovation emerging, namely Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS). This approach acknowledges the importance of all actors, organisations and institutions that directly or indirectly affect agricultural innovation creation and adoption. In AIS, innovation creation and diffusion occur when individuals and organisations collaborate meaning social relationships and social networks are at the core of the innovation process. However, AIS can fail if the actors, organisations and institutions do not operate and cooperate correctly. This thesis seeks to explore the role of farmer networks in innovation systems and identifies ways in which these networks can be used to overcome some of the failures of AIS and improve innovation uptake amongst farmers. Using social network analysis combined with inferential statistics, both informal farmer networks and farmer cooperatives are analysed to better inform policies that promote agricultural development. Due to the diversity of the agricultural sectors in SSA, this study focuses specifically on innovation in the dairy sector in East Africa. The first study in this thesis provides an overview of AIS in Kenya and Ethiopia, focusing on the adoption of forages as livestock feed. It highlights the differences in the institutional contexts of the countries and how this affects innovation diffusion. Overall, this chapter shows that the AIS have weaknesses such as a lack of pluralism and an absence of formal institutions which may impact innovation adoption. The second study in this thesis focuses on the structure of informal farmer networks by employing primary data from a survey of agricultural communities in western Kenya. It examines how these networks can be used to improve innovation adoption by focusing on three technologies: vaccines, artificial insemination and forages. The final study looks at formal farmer networks in the form of agricultural cooperatives in Rwanda. Primary data is used to explore whether government policy can effectively create cooperative networks that have positive effects on innovation adoption and overcome some of the AIS failures. This thesis finds that selecting individuals who can act as gatekeepers to wider farmer networks is important. These individuals have the power to transfer trusted knowledge and information from external sources into their network, to influence the decisions of farmers within their networks and to represent farmer needs and demands to higher levels of authority. They are therefore crucial in facilitating the diffusion of innovations and connecting farmers to other AIS actors. It is also found that whilst innovation policies can be improved by increasing our understanding of farmer social networks and social capital, attention also needs to be given to the wider policy environment to ensure it promotes innovation and adoption through other channels. Therefore, this thesis concludes that farmer networks have the potential to support the effective operation of AIS, but the wider policy environment also needs to support innovation.
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