Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Markets

The Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Markets (ESFIM) programme included 2 phases. The first phase of the programme ran from 2007 until 2013. During the inception phase in 2007 the objectives of the ESFIM programme were defined and consisted of three components: collaborative research in pilot countries, comparative research on some priority issues and learning for action to make research outputs useful for smallholder farmers. In 2008–2009 the ESFIM programme, with funding from IFAD and AGRICORD started with a round of participatory national workshops with farmer organisations and other stakeholders in nine countries to prioritise issues and policies that would improve market access of smallholders, and develop an advocacy strategy to influence related policies and institutions. Based on these prioritised research needs, a process of collaborative research started to support this advocacy agenda. The collaboration included local researchers, contracted by the farmer organisations, and research support from the European research institutes of AGRINATURA.

The second phase of the ESFIM programme ran from 2015 until 2018. In 2015 AgriCord and Wageningen University launched the ESFIM Research Support Fund. The fund has provided strategic support with action-oriented research that contributed to empowerment of Farmers Organisations in developing countries. The objective of the ESFIM Research Support Fund was to strengthen the position of farmers, particularly smallholders, in resolving problems related with market position. The final objective of the research support to national farmers’ organisations was to strengthen their members’ capacities to formulate feasible, evidence-based propositions for changes in key elements in the institutional environment that empower smallholder farmers in markets. In total 15 researches have been executed in 11 different countries.


To reach the above goals farmer organisations are the key social actor that is supported, and its agency and capacity is the central focus of the research partnership. ESFIM used the term Collaborative research for this approach of demand driven research, through a farmers’ organisation led process of formulating, selecting and backstopping of local research assignments for activities that they see as priorities for smallholder empowerment in markets .

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A call for research profiles has been distributed among the farmer organisations supported by agri-agencies in the AGRICORD network. WUR managed the process of proposal selection and backstopping. The submitted draft research profiles were reviewed by the ESFIM Evaluation Committee. Farmers organisations with an approved draft research proposal were requested to develop a more comprehensive and detailed final research proposal. In the stage of developing the final research proposal, the farmers organisations received support from WUR researchers to improve and fine-tune the specific research methodologies and research questions. Subsequently, WUR researchers also supported the implementation of the research and analysis of the data. The proposals submitted by the farmer organisations were rarely completely new but usually reflected a longer term effort of the farmer organisation embedded in local market and political dynamics.

Aim: Research support to farmers’ organisations that strengthen their members’ capacities to formulate feasible, evidence-based propositions for changes in key elements in the institutional environment that empower smallholder farmers in markets.

Activities: FOs from the selected countries steer a research partnership for empowering their smallholder farmers in markets using research support of European and local researchers to feed discussions on smallholder market access within a farmer driven platform and within a sequence of participatory workshops.

Outputs: FOs have a pro-active lobby agenda related with smallholder farmers in markets, and a set of written technically sound propositions for changes in specific key elements in the institutional environment.

Results: FOs are capable to more effectively voice their specific research requirements and link up with researchers that can support them in executing their research activities.