New book aims to improve smallholder farming

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An unusual book* on smallholder farming appeared in December 2020. Edited by two members of our team, it focuses on sub-Saharan Africa. Practical advice is the principle throughout. And until February 28th, there's a special discount for our visitors**!

"The sustainable intensification of smallholder farming systems" provides a comprehensive review of recent research on improving smallholders’ livelihoods. In 460 pages, numerous experts cover a wide range of topics. They include ways to improve access to key resources such as seeds, tools and expertise. There are chapters dedicated to finance and information, as well as to farmer organizations and extension services. The final section discusses how to improve smallholders’ access to markets, examining the roles of the private and public sectors.

According to the publishers, the book is «essential reading for researchers in departments of agricultural science, international development, politics and development economics. It will also be a key reference for government and NGOs». Mark Huisenga, a Senior Program Manager at USAID, is full of praise. He says that the book brings together many «strands of agricultural development expertise that are often disconnected». These include «some of the latest evidence and approaches that can yield direct benefits to smallholder farmers».  

The book’s editors are Dominik Klauser and Mike Robinson from our R&D team. We asked them to tell us more. 

Editing a book of this breadth is a huge amount of extra work. Why did you two get involved? 
Mike Robinson: The publishers approached us because they felt that our partners’ and the Foundation’s experience in delivering innovation to farmers provided a good basis for creating this book. We agreed! 

There are already lots of books on smallholder farming. Why should people read this one?
Mike Robinson: We wanted to create a publication that didn’t just repeat all the others. The Foundation works to sustainably intensify smallholder farming systems, so we focused on interventions to achieve that. However, we wanted to avoid a merely theoretical textbook. This one provides practical recommendations for designing and implementing holistic programs. Many projects fail because smallholders face so many constraints; trying to change just one will rarely work. 

This is your first publication of such magnitude. How did you find the editing experience?
Dominik Klauser: It’s been great! Working with our partners and collecting their wealth of knowledge from previous collaborations has been highly rewarding. We wanted the book to contain inputs from both academics and practitioners. It has been very good to see their different perspectives come together.

What have you learned yourselves?
Dominik Klauser: A lot. Getting inputs from so many distinguished contributors has broadened our horizons. It has also given us new insights into defining “sustainability” and “impact”. Personally, it has particularly struck me how program design needs to allow for farming’s incredible diversity. I’m sure that these lessons will benefit future Foundation initiatives.

What other interesting insights have you gained? 
Mike Robinson: Many of the authors highlight two particular points. One is the vital role that donors and NGOs can play by developing new markets without distorting existing ones. The other is the need to differentiate between cause and symptoms. The chapter on women in agriculture highlights this really well. Both points may sound obvious, but they’re easily forgotten! 

The book may not be a typical Christmas present. But who should buy it?
Dominik Klauser: Well, it certainly provides plenty of insightful reading for a socially distant festive season! Joking apart, though: We designed the book as a tool for donors, decision-makers and implementers. If you are looking for actionable guidelines and want holistically to deliver sustainably intensified farming systems, this is the publication to go for.  

*The sustainable intensification of smallholder farming systems (ISBN-10: 178676430X / ISBN-13: 978-1786764300).

** The usual price is £180. However, if you come through our website, there's a 20% discount until February 28th. Just enter the code "SFSA20" at checkout. Order here.