Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 195–212 | Cite as

Rural innovation systems and networks: findings from a study of Ethiopian smallholders

  • David J. SpielmanEmail author
  • Kristin Davis
  • Martha Negash
  • Gezahegn Ayele


Ethiopian agriculture is changing as new actors, relationships, and policies influence the ways in which small-scale, resource-poor farmers access and use information and knowledge in their agricultural production decisions. Although these changes suggest new opportunities for smallholders, too little is known about how changes will ultimately improve the wellbeing of smallholders in Ethiopia. Thus, we examine whether these changes are improving the ability of smallholders to innovate and thus improve their own welfare. In doing so, we analyze interactions between smallholders and other actors to provide new perspectives on the role played by smallholder innovation networks in the agricultural sector by drawing on data from community case studies conducted in 10 localities. Findings suggest that public extension and administration exert a strong influence over smallholder networks, potentially crowding out market-based and civil society actors, and thus limiting beneficial innovation processes. From a policy perspective, the findings suggest the need to further explore policies and programs that create more space for market and civil society to participate in smallholder innovation networks and improve welfare. From a conceptual and methodological perspective, our findings suggest the need to incorporate rigorous applications of social network analysis into the application of innovation systems theory.


Africa Ethiopia Agricultural development Innovation Participatory rural appraisal Social networks Social learning Technology adoption 



Agriculture Development-Led Industrialization


Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development


Credit and Savings Institution


Ethiopia Rural Smallholder Survey


Nongovernmental organizations


Participatory rural appraisal


Social network analysis


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. Spielman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristin Davis
    • 2
  • Martha Negash
    • 3
  • Gezahegn Ayele
    • 4
  1. 1.International Food Policy Research InstituteAddis AbabaEthiopia
  2. 2.International Food Policy Research InstituteLindauSwitzerland
  3. 3.Center for Institutions and Economic Performance (LICOS)Katholieke University of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  4. 4.Ethiopian Development Research InstituteAddis AbabaEthiopia

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