Three types of farmers and how they innovate

Three types of farmers and how they innovate

It is now very clear that farmers and households are not homogeneous.  This has enormous implications on agricultural-related programmes.  While boundaries are mostly invisible, farmers and traders can be classified as follows:

Early adopters25% of the farmers or traders.  These quickly adopt new ideas and create their own shallow or deep knowledge.  Identifying early adopters in agricultural and inclusive development interventions is very important to avoid wasting resources on the wrong type of people. Rather than just counting the number of households or farmers to be part of a particular programme, development partners, financial institutions and government interventions should critically review their selection criteria. In most cases, identifying and working with early adopters as leaders and champions will have a pull effect on the wait and see group. This will also pile pressure on the resistors towards positively changing their mind set.

02 November 1

Wait and see group50% of farmers and traders who often closely watching what early adopters are doing so they can either follow or make decisions.  This group is not in a hurry to take risks. A big number have a ‘follow the leader’ mind set.  They are more of copy cats than participants and, are not keen to model risk taking behaviour.  However, this group has useful lessons which can inform the early adopters.  For example, many farmers and traders who had bad experiences with Zimbabwe’s banking crisis in 2008 are in the wait and see category.  Others are coming up with new innovations and ideas which, unfortunately, most financial institutions consider to be green field.


Resistors (25%) – This group is resistant to change whether that change is good or not. An example is those who completely don’t want to do business on the phone.  This group may have knowledge and experience acquired in the past.  Such knowledge should be synthesized so that it informs and add value to early adopters. Farmers and traders who resist belonging to a farmer group have had bad experiences with groups and cooperatives.  Some have legitimate reasons for resisting contract farming although there are positive aspects in contract farming. While there are many examples of farmers and traders benefiting from working with banks, we still find a big number of resistors who need to be skilfully convinced.

A key strategy for knowledge brokers is working with early adopters (25%) while trying to influence the wait and see (50%) and resistors (25%).

How this extends to innovation

The same way of looking at people can be extended to innovators. From a recent discussion with a friend based on Australia, we identified following categories, irrespective of colour or race:

  1. Two and half per cent of every population comprises innovators (these are the crazy ones considered mad by policy makers and other members of society).
  2. Twelve and half per cent are the clever ones.  These don’t quickly take the risk but travel around looking for ideas to copy, mostly from the crazy ones.
  1. Eighty five per cent (85%) – This group will change when things become fashionable.  They don’t want to be left behind.

The first and second group should be targeted for influence in any intervention. The third group will eventually get involved through self-adoption.  In a world where resources are dwindling, understanding people has a bearing on resource allocation and success or failure.  In almost all institutions, it is better to spend time identifying adopters (two and half per cent), the clever ones and resistors.  It takes time to discover that you have bumped into resistors and, in most cases you will have wasted a lot of resources. Most of the clever people in institutions have devised ways of working around their bosses – tell the boss what s/he wants to hear.  Developing countries are at a stage where they need more ‘crazy’ ones or early adopters who are ready to take risks. / /

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