Effectiveness of Innovation Grants to Smallholder Agricultural Producers: An Explorative Systematic Review

Publication Details

Ton G, de Grip K, Klerkx L, Rau M-L, Douma M, Friis-Hansen E, Triomphe B, Waters-Bayer A, Wongtschowski M (2013) Effectiveness of innovation grants to smallholderagricultural producers: an explorative systematic review. EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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Giel Ton, Karin de Grip, Laurens Klerkx, Marie-Luise Rau, Marieke Douma with Esbern Friis-Hansen, Bernard Triomphe, Ann Waters-Bayer, Mariana Wongtschowski
East Asia and Pacific (includes South East Asia), South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean
Agriculture and Rural Development
Agricultural Reform, Agricultural Credit
Equity Focus
Review Type
Effectiveness review

Main findings

Headline Findings: a summary statement

The evidence, while limited, suggests agricultural- innovation funds can have a positive effect on innovation and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Broader support for innovation systems alongside grant funding may be more effective at improving livelihoods of farmers than provision of financial support alone.

Evidence Base

Sixty-two studies were included in the review. Twenty of these were impact-evaluation studies, which were complemented by information from 36 qualitative studies and six outcome-monitoring studies that did not measure impact. The review concentrated on six grant-innovation systems in Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Colombia and Latin America. Other included studies assessed interventions in South Asia, and East Asia and the Pacific.

Implications for policy and practice

Voucher-grant systems may improve the uptake of practices that increase innovation by smallholder farmers. It is crucial for vouchers to be effectively targeted to reach non-users. Vouchers are shown to have a positive impact on livelihoods of recipient farmers, except when resultant increases in production lead to a fall in the market price of the good.

The evidence on business-support grants also suggests a positive impact on farmer-group investment in technology and support services for business proposals. However, initial organisational social capital is required for farmer groups to develop such proposals. There is only weak supporting evidence to suggest that the grants translate into improved farmer incomes. Grants are only one among a larger set of factors that make a business proposal successful. Any income effects from successful business proposals cannot be directly or exclusively attributed to the grant.

The authors find supporting evidence that farmer-led innovation grants can be successful in opening up neglected research areas and directing research to focus on farmers’ priorities, particularly when an interactive relationship exists between farmers and researchers.

The evidence also suggests that innovation grants may be more effective if combined with access to additional services and more comprehensive support policies.

There is some evidence that agricultural innovation grants can have mixed effects on natural resources. However, studies that show negative environmental effects (such as loss of tree species due to land clearing, or soil erosion due to increased land cultivation) also report positive outcomes in terms of yields and incomes.

The authors conclude that the creation of human and social capital should be an objective of innovation projects alongside improved income and yields, and should be measured as important outcomes in impact studies of agricultural-innovation funds.

Implications for further research

Future research should also measure changes in intermediate outcomes, as well as, human and social development outcomes.  Rigorous evaluation designs experimental and quasi-experimental designs should be used where possible. Since little information exists about the sustainability of effects, the authors highlight the need to collect more long-term data on key outcomes of interest following implementation of grants. Independent funding organisations with longer time horizons may be a useful source of funding for evaluations of a more long-term nature. 


Grant funds targeted at smallholder farmers to stimulate agricultural innovation at the farm level are increasingly considered an important mechanism to stimulate agricultural innovation. These grants aim to improve shortcomings in innovation systems and stimulate greater farmer-led engagement in technology generation and extension, and general agricultural innovation. However, the evidence to date on the effectiveness of these grants is scattered, and thus few lessons have been drawn from the existing literature. This systematic review aims to address this gap by synthesising evidence about the impact of vouchers, competitive grants and farmer-led innovation-support funds for agricultural innovation on farm-level outcomes, with particular focus on the poor and women.

Research objectives

Objective as stated in the review: To synthesise the available quantitative and qualitative literature relating to the effectiveness of agricultural-innovation funds on agricultural- innovation, agricultural-production and well-being outcomes, with a focus on the poor and women in low- and middle-income countries. The review also aims to synthesise findings on the conditions under which agricultural-innovation funds are effective.


The authors included quantitative and qualitative studies of the impact of agricultural-innovation grants on agricultural innovation and livelihoods of smallholder farmers and agricultural-service providers in low- and middle-income countries. To be included, studies had to provide at least one characteristic of the grant system and some information on the innovation context.

The authors conducted a systematic search of the published and unpublished literature covering the period until January 2012. They searched bibliographic scientific databases and library catalogues such as Scopus, Web of Science, AGRIS and IDEAS, electronic online search engines such as Google Scholar, and specialist websites of organisations and institutions such as 3ie, the World Bank and IFAD. The authors also searched reference lists of included studies and made direct contact with experts on innovation grants to find additional relevant studies.

The authors synthesised the evidence using an exploratory, realist-synthesis approach. They draw their conclusions about the impact of innovation funds from the included impact studies and supplement these findings with information about the functioning and effectiveness of the grants taken from outcome-monitoring and qualitative descriptive studies. The authors aggregated findings descriptively by impact pathway.

Quality assessment

The review has clear inclusion criteria, include a comprehensive search and the review team used appropriate methods to avoid bias in the selection of papers for inclusion.  The authors report characteristics of included studies and clearly describe potential sources of heterogeneity. However, the review has some major limitations. The criteria for evaluating the strength of evidence are not clear, but they appear to omit important sources of bias, rating studies without counterfactual analysis as ‘moderate’. The study designs, interventions and outcomes seem to be too diverse to conduct meta-analysis. However, the synthesis of effects do primarily rely on vote counting. The authors present the findings descriptively in the results section and provide tables where they highlight the direction of effects, but do not present any statistical data and it is not clear how results of individual studies were assessed to be positive or negative. Finally, while studies are analysed descriptively by their risk of bias/type of study (impact studies, outcome monitoring studies and descriptive studies), the criteria for ‘impact studies’ are very broad and include studies without counterfactual analysis.

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