Farmers in two rows plant crops in an open field

Shifting the Lens for Resilient Development through the Whole-Farm Approach

| 4 Minute Read
Agriculture and Food Security | Inclusive Agricultural Market Systems and Value Chains
Chemonics’ Whole-Farm approach is a household-centric methodology that addresses multi-sectoral development objectives by treating smallholder farming as a family business and promoting an enabling market environment for the business to succeed.

COVID-19 and Russia’s war on Ukraine have severely disrupted global agricultural markets leading to severe food insecurity implications. The impact of these events demonstrates the importance of building the resilience of smallholder farming households and the market and food systems of which they are a part. Resilient households and local market systems can quickly adjust and respond to shocks and thrive, even in uncertainty. To build household resilience, it is essential that development projects implement comprehensive strategies that attempt to simultaneously address various aspects of it including nutrition; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); youth development; gender equity; and climate adaptation and resilience.  

However, targeting these various aspects while also carrying out market systems development can be challenging. There is a need for a streamlined approach that addresses all these aspects while also achieving results. Chemonics’ Whole-Farm approach is an emerging solution that is currently being implemented on the USAID Feed the Future Fostering Agribusiness for Resilient Markets (FARM) Activity in Zimbabwe and has already seen promising results.  

Foundations for a Strong Household-Centric Methodology 

Chemonics’ Whole-Farm approach is a household-centered methodology that aims to build more resilient and productive agricultural households by treating smallholder farming as a family business. This means giving a stronger understanding of livelihood activities as businesses activities to lead farmers to make informed choices that diversify income sources, build household assets, and exploit market opportunities.  

The Whole-Farm approach reaches its household and market system resilience objectives by focusing its activities on two key areas:  

  1. Building Household Capacity: By seeing women, men, and youth as valuable contributors to household income, the Whole-Farm approach seeks to build all household members’ business and life skills to shift from subsistence-farming systems into well-functioning and profitable value chains. The approach equips farming households to identify market opportunities and promotes diversified production to address the risks (e.g., pest outbreaks, climate change-related shocks) associated with single cropping systems. As part of a diversified cropping system, the approach also promotes production of nutritious crops and livestock to improve household nutrition. The approach aims to link farming households to extension that teaches good agriculture practices (GAP), good animal husbandry practices (GAHP), and climate-smart agriculture (CSA) techniques. By comprehensively building the capacity of the household, the Whole-Farm approach ensures a safe and nutritionally adequate food supply at the household level, financial profit, and a higher level of participation and engagement from women and youth.

    A woman in Zimbabwe plants maize seeds
    Puzvai Mlambo practicing climate smart soil tillage in her maize demonstration plot.
  2. Promoting an Enabling Market Environment. By using market systems development activities, the Whole-Farm approach promotes an enabling market environment for smallholders and small and medium enterprises to thrive. The approach promotes the expansion of farmers’ networks and fortifies their relationship with input suppliers, financing agencies, veterinary service providers, and commercialization channels. Skills built at the household level equip the household members with the necessary skills to make confident and efficient decisions in the face of shocks, help them negotiate with the customers and input providers, and in the end acknowledge that they have the power to be protagonists of their own development and family business success. 

Implementing the Whole-Farm Approach to Improve Resiliency 

In Zimbabwe, the FARM Activity has been successful in working with smallholder farming households to develop the required skills to run the farm as a family business, to improve the enabling environment for agricultural businesses to succeed, and to catalyze the necessary changes to build resilient households and market systems. 

For example, smallholder livestock value chains have the potential to improve household nutrition, promote gender inclusion and increase incomes for smallholder households. For that reason, the FARM’s Activity facilitated the connection between women farmers and a reputable local poultry breeder in Chiredzi, a district of Masvingo province. As a result, the women farmers were able to purchase day-old chicks not only to satisfy household consumption with highly nutritious food but also to sell the surplus and thereby increase their incomes.  

A woman with a face mask surrounded by chickens
Stella Jonasi with her chickens.

Stella Jonasi is one of the farmers who purchased 88 chicks to commercialize her poultry production. In the past, she kept a few free-range chickens solely for home consumption. With the support of the FARM Activity, which linked her to a chicken breeder and introduced her to markets to fully commercialize her poultry production, she has earned $120 from the sale of 20 cocks from her stock so far. Moreover, Stella is deliberately selecting the female chicks to enable her to venture into egg production. FARM has also provided her with business development skills like record keeping and budgeting.

Thanks to FARM Activity lessons on taking farming as a business, l am now earning income from chickens. I never thought being serious about chicken production could make me earn more income. Now, I am going to grow my chicken business and become a supplier of chickens and eggs.

Stella Jonasi, Farmer, Zimbabwe

Promising Preliminary Results in Zimbabwe 

After only one year of implementing the FARM Activity in Zimbabwe, Chemonics’ Whole-Farm approach has delivered promising results. The Activity’s 2021 Annual Household Survey (AHS) used a household Shock and Stress Resilience Index as a proxy for actual resilience, which is associated with positive behaviors to cope with shocks and stresses. The index is measured on a scale ranging from 2 to 6, where a higher score means greater resilience. Household responses collected during the AHS at the end of the first year of implementation (2021) indicated an overall stress index score of 4.9, compared to a baseline score of 3.7 recorded in 2020.  

Even though further analysis is necessary as the Activity progresses, these promising preliminary results suggest the effectiveness of the Whole-Farm approach in creating household-centric strategies and market systems interventions that lead to improved resilience at the household level. Improved household business management can lead to improved income, household food security, implementation of climate adaptation strategies, and greater empowerment of women and youth. All these factors contribute to building household resilience to economic, climatic, environmental, and political shocks. 

 Banner image caption: Farmers participating in a maize and legume planting demonstration at a farmer field school at Gudo irrigation scheme, Chiredzi district, Zimbabwe. The photo was taken by the USAID FARM Activity.

Posts on the blog represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Chemonics. 

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About Aldana Joel Canton

Aldana Joel Canton is an Agriculture Engineer pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy at the University of Maryland. She has worked with smallholder farmers in the implementation of the Strategic Viticulture Plan 2020 in Argentina. She served as an intern on Chemonics’ Agriculture and Food Security Technical Team during the Summer of 2022.