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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Spielman (2006) for a review of the literature on innovation systems applications to developing-country agriculture.

  2. 2.

    For a review of the literature on rural governance in Ethiopia, see Dom and Mussa (2006a, b), Segers et al. (2008), Aalen (2002), Pausewang et al. (2003), Vaughan and Tronvoll (2003), and Gebre-Egziabher and Berhanu (2007).

  3. 3.

    In Ethiopia, kebeles or peasant associations (PAs) are the smallest administrative unit below the woreda (district) level. For purposes of comparison, kebeles correspond to a cluster of villages in most other sub-Saharan African countries.

  4. 4.

    Development agents are trained extension agents who are employed by the regional bureaus of agriculture, managed by woreda-level offices of these regional bureaus, and posted directly to the kebeles.

  5. 5.

    SNA data can also be used to study bimodal networks in which nodes are tied by affiliations (e.g., memberships of actors in different types of associations) and are compiled in nonsquare (n × m) matrixes in which matrix element a ij denotes actor i’s tie with association j.

Abbreviations

ADLI:

Agriculture Development-Led Industrialization

BoARD:

Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development

CSI:

Credit and Savings Institution

ERSS:

Ethiopia Rural Smallholder Survey

NGOs:

Nongovernmental organizations

PRA:

Participatory rural appraisal

SNA:

Social network analysis

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Spielman, D.J., Davis, K., Negash, M. et al. Rural innovation systems and networks: findings from a study of Ethiopian smallholders. Agric Hum Values 28, 195–212 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-010-9273-y

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Keywords

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