FAO Investment Centre

Evidence from Kenya and Rwanda shows investing in human capital exponentially unlocks farmers’ potential


Agriculture plays an important role in feeding the East and Southern African countries and other countries the region exports to, as well as in generating income for those working in the food value chain.

Investing in farmers – or agriculture human capital – is therefore crucial to addressing challenges in our agrifood systems.

“Today more than ever, farmers face profound changes – from climate change, labour shortages and global pandemics such as COVID-19, to an explosive rise in digital technologies, shifting diets and rigorous global and national food safety standards,” said John Preissing, the Deputy Director – FAO Investment Centre.

John was speaking during the virtual launch of agriculture human capital investment case study carried out in East and Southern Africa, with examples drawn from Kenya and Rwanda.

“Agricultural producers need the capacity to analyse, innovate and respond, to keep up with this rapidly changing environment to optimise their efforts. At the same time, they must manage their own businesses,” he added. This case that was part of a global study started in early 2020 aimed to provide governments, international financing institutions, the private sector and other partners with the evidence and analysis needed to make more and better investments in agriculture human capital.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) carried out the global study.

It showed that investments in developing the human capital of smallholder producers resulted in new technical and business capacities and empowered farmers with various useful skills. This led to increased incomes, yields and the inclusion of marginalized groups.

Strengthening skills and capacities in Rwanda Twigire Muhinzi – meaning ‘self-reliance in farming’ – is Rwanda’s homegrown, decentralized and farmer-oriented agricultural extension system.

By combining local farmer promoters and farmer field schools, the system is helping Rwandan farmers sharpen their skills and knowledge and become more empowered. This, in turn, is leading to greater uptake of technologies and practices that can improve farmers’ livelihoods and incomes.

Twigire Muhinzi trains farmers rather than government or NGO staff as farmer field school facilitators, and relies on farmer promoters who provide local demonstrations. The system focuses on developing the capacity of a critical mass of frontline extension agents and empowering farmers to make smart decisions based on experimentation, observation and analysis.

“Farmers and field school facilitators interviewed across four provinces have gained a range of technical, social and functional skills. These run from increased competencies in livestock management and cropping practices to cooperation and market analysis. Farmers were in a better position to plan their agricultural activities and negotiate higher prices for their produce,” said the lead author, Lucy Mwangi, Highland Centre for Leadership and Development, Rwanda: Institutionalizing farmer field schools – Twigire Muhinzi National Extension System in Rwanda.

The farmer field schools and lead promoters allowed for greater reach, and created first hand understanding of farmers’ needs across the community. This success propelled Twigire Muhinzi to be integrated into the national system.

Improved income and quality of life in Kenya

The Kenya study recounts experiences from the Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion project (SHEP), which set out to train farmers to grow for market – to motivate them to commercialize production. Kenya’s farming population. Funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in three phases from 2006 to 2020, the project succeeded in increasing the average net income of farmers. In the third phase of the project, the average real incomes increased by 104 percent for participating farmers.

SHEP empowered farmers to conduct market surveys to determine what was in high demand. Farmers interacted with a wide range of market actors through the Farm Business Linkage Stakeholder (FABLIST) Forum, where they established links with farm input suppliers, horticultural traders, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and other market players.

“As a result of SHEP training, many farmers started contacting the market stakeholders they met during the market surveys or FABLIST Forums on their own to obtain advice on production and marketing,” said co-author Maina Mwangi, from Kenya’s Kenyatta University and Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services – Kenya. “They also changed their attitude that farming is really a business after realizing the availability of markets for their produce.”

There is growing evidence that when you invest in farmers, their capacity and motivation to produce food profitably and sustainably increases.

Photo credit Photos 1 and 2: FAO/ Marco Longari; Photo 3: FAO/ Luis Tato