The impact of a farmer business school program on incomes of smallholder farmers: Insights from central Malawi

Various models and approaches are being implemented to provide technical assistance and support to improve smallholder farmers’ incomes and welfare in Malawi. This study evaluates the impact of farmer business schools (FBS) on crop incomes of smallholder farmers in Dedza district in central Malawi. The FBS approach, which has been implemented nationally by the Government of Malawi since 2011, consists of one year of group training and learning sessions for smallholder farmers focusing on improving market access and establishing profitable agribusiness ventures. This study used a multi-stage sampling procedure to collect data from 455 smallholder farmers: 162 FBS graduates, 84 FBS dropouts, and 209 non-participants. Using propensity score matching and difference-in-difference techniques, crop incomes from two groups of farmers were evaluated; FBS participants and FBS non-participants as well as FBS graduates and FBS dropouts. The study finds a positive yet small impact of FBS participation on crop income and production (US$20 per year on average), and no significant difference in crop income and production for farmers who graduated from FBS versus those who dropped out. Insights from the qualitative research component of this study suggest that this is primarily due to the limited financial resources smallholder farmers have to implement the agricultural techniques and business models taught in FBS.