Increasing yields and livelihoods for smallholder farmers

Strengthening Agriculture Practices

Over 70% of the world’s poorest people rely on agriculture and farming for employment and income. Outside of keeping the world fed, bolstering agriculture as a productive and sustainable livelihood has massive potential for poverty alleviation. Supporting efforts to improve agriculture can represent brighter futures for smallholder farmers around the world.  Countless solutions have been implemented to increase farm productivity, profit, and sustainability, and incredible progress has been made. But we know that often these innovations are underutilized or incorrectly applied, or they have unintended consequences. What we don’t know is: why?

If we look closely, it’s clear that nearly every product, service, or program designed to improve outcomes for smallholder farmers requires behavior change to have an impact. Yet, the nuances of how people make decisions and ultimately take action are often overlooked in the design and creation of these solutions.

Because behavioral science is uniquely suited to assess these types of problems and improve interventions, ideas42 is focusing on two main avenues in our work to strengthen agriculture.

The first is agricultural finance. Of the few financial products actually available to smallholder farmers, most are not suited to their unique contexts. Many smallholder farmers are unbanked and live in rural areas, making it more challenging to leverage helpful traditional resources like loans or comprehensive savings programs. Farmers also experience cyclical financial flows and must balance cash windfalls at harvest time with major expenditures at planting time. We see a significant opportunity to use behavioral science to strengthen existing financial products, create new ones, and enable farmers to make long-term decisions with their money.

Additionally, we are focusing on the adoption of best practices. For many smallholder farmers, adopting critical best practices such as timely planting and weeding, improved plant spacing, and using improved inputs, would lead to significant increases in productivity each year. The traditional model for encouraging and teaching these best practices is heavily based around supplying information. Yet, we know from behavioral science research that new information is not enough to lead to lasting action or behavior change. There is an opportunity to both strengthen existing agricultural extension infrastructure and create new systems, tools, and products to support the adoption of these helpful best practices by smallholder farmers.

Our work applying a behavioral lens to agriculture includes:

  • Ghana: Encouraging farmers to adopt best practices for row planting
  • Indonesia: Increasing saving rates among cocoa farmers
  • Kenya: Enabling farmers to optimize loans for productive assets
  • Mozambique: Improving more timely planting among cotton farmers
  • Tanzania: Encouraging adoption of improved crop storage technologies to reduce post-harvest loss

Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to agriculture? Reach out to us at or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.