Farmer Groups in Food Production
Purpose of this guide
This guide explains the advantages farmers can gain by using
small group approaches to solve their food production problems.
Benefits of farmer groups
How farmers benefit:
Working through small groups, farmers can reduce the cost of
accessing inputs, production technologies, information and markets
by sharing these costs amongst all members of the group.
This means lower individual costs.
- Lower input costs: by bulk purchasing inputs through
groups, farmers obtain bulk sale discounts from suppliers and can
share transport costs.
- Lower information costs: through groups, farmers can
link up with government extension services by sharing costs
in accessing these services (e.g. travel costs to the nearest
extension agency, buying a transistor radio, etc.)
- Lower cost of financial services: through groups,
farmers can open group savings and/or credit accounts offered by
financial institutions at reduced individual expense.
- Reduced marketing and selling costs: through groups,
marketing farmers can share storage, processing, transport and
selling costs. Lower costs per farmer mean higher profits.
How governments benefit:
Governments obtain several advantages by working through
- more cost-effective delivery of extension services to
farmers, especially small famers: working through groups,
government extensionists can reach more farmers, at no increase
- increases small farmer access to financial services:
through group approaches, governments and banking institutions
reach more farmers at little increase in cost.
- more efficient delivery of farm inputs and marketing of
output: through group approaches efficiencies in the delivery
of inputs and marketing of output are improved. This translates
into lower consumer prices.
Group Formation at local level
Group formation is ideally done by farmers themselves. This
process can be facilitated by locally identified and specially
trained Group Promoters (GPs), who assist the group development
process and act as intermediaries between the groups and outside
providers of services. Some basic rules of group formation
1. Encourage group action:
- Do not impose anything; groups should be based on farmer
needs not those of outsiders.
- Work with farmers to identify their problems and
- Help them assess their group self-help capacities,
their strengths and resources for solving those problems.
- Assist in identifying areas for group action only
where the benefits outweigh the costs.
2. Discuss group formation
- Go slowly- forming healthy groups takes time. Work to
gain the people’s confidence and trust. Listen and show
- Call village meetings. Discuss food security issues
and identify how a group approach might be used to help solve
- Discuss goals and expectations. Remind people that the
advantages of group action are realized through hard work,
self-sacrifice and a clear focus on realistic group
- Focus on individual profitability. Group action must
make economic sense to each farmer. Individual incomes earned
through the group earned should exceed expenses.
- Assess all the benefits and costs of cooperation. Ask
the people what they will gain from participation and what will
it cost in terms of self-sacrifice. Do all the benefits outweigh
all the costs?
3. Establish groups
- Encourage small groups (5-20 members). Farmers
learn more quickly in small groups than in larger ones. There is
more trust and information is shared more freely.
- Ensure that group members share a common bond
homogeneous (members should have similar interests and
backgrounds). A common bond means less disputes and more
- Promote groups that are voluntary and democratic.
Members should decide through majority vote, or consensus, who
joins the group, who will lead them, what rules to follow, and
what activities they will undertake.
- Help the group choose a name for itself. Names
are important. They help build a group’s identity and
promote member solidarity.
- Assist it in setting realistic objectives. Group
members must reach consensus on what will be done, by whom and
- Urge groups to meet regularly. Frequent meetings are
desirable during the early learning stage. Stress the need for
4. Aim at group self-reliance
For the benefits of group action to continue even after
outside assistance ceases, the groups must become self-reliant
and cohesive units. This requires training:
- Ensure that leadership develops and gets shared. A
group should not depend too much on a single individual.
- Highlight the importance of member contributions.
Regular group savings are essential and should be encouraged.
Member contributions to group activities help build a sense of
group ownership and solidarity
- Encourage simple record keeping. Records help the
group remember what has been decided at meetings and keep track
of contributions, income and expenses. They are essential for
monitoring group business activities.
- The group promoter’s resource book, FAO (1994)
- The group enterprise resource book, FAO (1996)
Small groups have their limits. Encouraging small
groups to link up into larger inter-group associations, once they
have achieved satisfactory self-reliance, say after 2-3 years,
can further increase their marketing power and
But inter-group associations are more complex and difficult
to manage than small groups and require different approaches
and methods. New guidelines are needed.
- The group association resource book, FAO (1999)
Favourable policy environments
Farmer groups are best promoted where legal and policy
conditions favour such forms of cooperation and when the government
confines its role to that of a facilitator rather than a
- The legal and policy environment should encourage
rural participation and the formation of informal self-help
- Rural people should be allowed to organize their own
group businesses and concerns.
- The government should encourage the development of
rural communication systems that facilitate information exchange
- Assistance programmes should aim at developing group
self-help capacities. Too much financial assistance can create
- People’s Participation in Rural Development, the FAO
Plan of Action, FAO (1991)