Principles of demand-driven agricultural practice

A significant portion of billions of dollars that have gone into agriculture in developing countries have been absorbed by supply-driven information systems.  With each organisation beating its own drum, tons of publications, videos, manuals and websites continue to be produced. All these are directed at telling farmers what to do and how to do it. To the extent that much of this information remains unused, most organisations blame farmers for not using it to pull themselves out of poverty.

Towards understanding demand-driven agriculture

While farmers are, in most cases, expected to narrate their work, for most good farmers, agricultural practice is an unconscious process which they may not be able to express to anyone in words.  Working with farmers and traders has awakened eMKambo to a number unnoticed principles that influence how farmers interface with knowledge. Understanding these principles will enable development agencies and policy makers to engage appropriately with farmers and traders.


  1. Farmers and traders value knowledge that they request more highly than knowledge that is pushed to them.  It seems the best way to get knowledge into the heads of farmers and traders is through answering their questions. Instead of resorting to supply-driven training workshops, question and answer sessions generate more usable knowledge for farmers and traders. Agricultural organisations should direct more resources to stimulating and answering questions rather than publishing ideas whose demand and use is not very clear.
  2. Farmers and traders do not pay attention to knowledge until they actually need it. Like most people, farmers will not absorb knowledge until they are ready. They will not be ready until they feel a need. They can clap hands and ululate after you have said something but that does not mean they have absorbed what you have said because it may not be useful immediately.  Agricultural knowledge should be provided just when it is needed rather than documenting case studies on the assumption that farmers may use them later on.  Such knowledge will easily be forgotten.
  3. Most farmers and traders will not use knowledge unless they trust its source. They do not trust what is not invented in their communities of practice. They need either to trust the individual or the organisation which brings the knowledge. It is important for agricultural organisations to spend time building credibility and trust. This may not happen within two to five years which is the duration of most development interventions.
  4. Knowledge has to be reviewed in the farmers’ and traders’ own context before it can be received.  The first question in the farmer’s mind upon receiving new information is: “Is this relevant to me?” Every farmer and trader always feels their own context is different even though the difference may just be an assumption. They need to test the knowledge for relevance before they really pay attention.  Transferring knowledge in a written form is difficult, unless you can introduce a process by which farmers and traders can interrogate this within their own context.
  5. One of the biggest barriers to farmers and traders accepting new knowledge is old knowledge.  They have to unlearn, before they can learn.  Old assumptions, old habits, “the way we have always done it in the past” may all have to be challenged before farmers and traders can absorb and make sense of new knowledge.  This is often a very difficult process which is connected to cultural and power dynamics in some farming communities and agriculture markets.
  6. Knowledge has to be adapted before it can be adopted. If farmers are provided with guidance, tips and hints, they will always tweak this information in order to make it theirs. Sometimes this tweaking and adjusting is necessary to fit the knowledge to their own context. Sometimes it is unnecessary in practical terms despite being necessary in emotional terms. So when you are providing farmers and traders with guidance, tips and hints or even a recipe, you have to give them some idea of where they can adapt it. There are so many cases of farmers adapting ideas the wrong way.
  7. Knowledge will be more effective the more farmer and traders make it personal. The more personal, emotional, and highly charged the learning situation, the more the knowledge will be easily adopted by farmers and traders.  Discussions, story- telling and coaching can be personal, emotional and highly charged, but this is often very difficult to translate into the written word.  That is why video is becoming very helpful in some situations.
  8. For farmers and traders, seeing is believing, trying is trusting and doing is internalising. When farmers or traders try things and find they work, this reinforces the belief that knowledge from others is of real practical value.


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eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

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