Diversity amongst farm households and achievements from multi-stakeholder innovation platform approach: lessons from Balaka Malawi.
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BACKGROUND Understanding diversity of smallholder farm households is of critical importance for the success of development interventions. Farming households often will devise livelihood strategies that provide the best guarantee for survival and based on their socioeconomic vulnerability. This study examines how achievements from the Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) approach through participation in innovation platform activities accrue to smallholder farming households of diverse socioeconomic status. The study is based on a representative sample of smallholder farmers from Balaka innovation platform found in Balaka district of Malawi. Balaka innovation platform was formed in 2009 with the aim of addressing key farmer problems of low crop productivity, lack of input and output markets, limited access to agricultural credit, low incomes and poverty in general. Through multi-stakeholder dialogue, the platform proposed activities meant to improve livelihoods of participants. Some of the activities include conservation agriculture adoption, crop diversification, improved communication through the platform, linking farmers to microfinance institutions and markets, collective market participation, joining farmer groups organised by the platform and various other activities. The main aim was to improve crop productivity, household incomes and food security. RESULTS A multivariate study that combines principal component analysis for essential data reduction and cluster analysis to classify typical farm households based on their socioeconomic characteristics and reported achievements from innovation platform activities was used. It is evident from the results that achievements from innovation platform activities are not uniform across farmer groups of different socioeconomic status. CONCLUSIONS The upshots call for segregated approaches in promoting adoption of various livelihood improving activities, technologies and approaches through the innovation platform approach in smallholder farming areas such as the ones in Balaka, Malawi. Tactics selected by development partners to fight against smallholder farmer problems of low productivity low incomes and food insecurity should conform to farmer socioeconomic vulnerability for greater success
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