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Uptake and resistance: The rural poor and user-pays agricultural extension in Malawi


  • Spencer, Rochelle
  • Mthinda, Catherine
  • Masangano, Charles
  • Boyd, Davina
  • Davis, John K.


The shift to pluralistic agricultural extension services in Malawi sets the context for this article’s focus on the private service provider (PSP) delivery model. The role of the PSP, the alacrity and resistance of smallholder farmers to pay for PSP services, and the challenges experienced in implementing this user-pays approach are examined. We draw on the analytic framework of credibility, salience and legitimacy as germane to understanding uptake and resistance to the PSP model. This article is based on empirical data from a longitudinal qualitative study. Interviews with approximately 50 PSPs and nearly 100 stakeholders from the public, private and non governmental sectors across Malawi were supplemented with focus group discussions with 30 farmer groups in Malawi representing close to 600 smallholders. The results reveal the complexity of shifting to a user-pays system and that PSPs play important roles in delivering services that respond to farmers’ needs. What we are finding in this ongoing research is the uptake by smallholder farmers of the user-pays approach is more likely when all three characteristics of the framework for uptake are attended to – credibility, salience and legitimacy. This article compliments the extant, largely quantitative, literature on willingness to pay by qualitatively teasing out the nuances of farmers’ responses to a user-pays approach in order to explore acts of alacrity and resistance. The findings highlight some practical challenges for agricultural advisory service providers to operationalise the user-pays principle in the Malawi agricultural extension policy. This original empirical research adds to the discourse on farmer development processes. It provides an important example to be learned from in seeking to improve plurality in agricultural extension in sub-Saharan Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • Spencer, Rochelle & Mthinda, Catherine & Masangano, Charles & Boyd, Davina & Davis, John K., 2018. "Uptake and resistance: The rural poor and user-pays agricultural extension in Malawi," World Development Perspectives, Elsevier, vol. 9(C), pages 48-55.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wodepe:v:9:y:2018:i:c:p:48-55
    DOI: 10.1016/j.wdp.2018.04.005

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Horna, J. Daniela & Smale, Melinda & Oppen, Matthias Von, 2007. "Farmer willingness to pay for seed-related information: rice varieties in Nigeria and Benin," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(06), pages 799-825, December.
    2. Nicholas Ozor & Chris J. Garforth & Michael C. Madukwe, 2013. "Farmers' Willingness To Pay For Agricultural Extension Service: Evidence From Nigeria," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(3), pages 382-392, April.
    3. C. Martin Webber & Patrick Labaste, 2010. "Building Competitiveness in Africa's Agriculture : A Guide to Value Chain Concepts and Applications," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 2401.
    4. Anderson, Jock R. & Feder, Gershon, 2003. "Rural extension services," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2976, The World Bank.
    5. Davis, Jennifer, 2004. "Assessing Community Preferences for Development Projects: Are Willingness-to-Pay Studies Robust to Mode Effects?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 655-672, April.
    6. Pingali, Prabhu L. & Rosegrant, Mark W., 1995. "Agricultural commercialization and diversification: processes and policies," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 171-185, June.
    7. Asa Giertz & Jorge Caballero & Diana Galperin & Donald Makoka & Jonathan Olson & George German, 2015. "Malawi Agricultural Sector Risk Assessment," World Bank Other Operational Studies 23678, The World Bank.
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