Impact Management | June 26, 2024

Measuring impact by listening to smallholder farmers at scale in Latin America

Carla Grados Villamar and Camila Aguilar

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Guest Author

Carla Grados Villamar

Guest Author

Camila Aguilar

It’s no secret that evaluating and measuring impact is essential for ensuring the success of social projects. It aids in informed decision-making, assesses whether a program or intervention has achieved its desired outcomes, and identifies what is working and what needs to be changed.

In agricultural projects, social impact measurement faces considerable challenges, especially when it comes to the hardest-to-reach smallholder farmers, who are often more vulnerable in the face of the climate crisis. Climate change is expected to significantly impact crop yields and food security, making it critical to understand intervention results to create opportunities, particularly for women in rural areas. 

With sustainable agricultural projects gaining interest, accurate impact assessments are more crucial than ever.

Impact evaluation journey

Fundación Alpina is not a typical corporate foundation. Established in 2008, the Colombia-based foundation works as a social lab aiming to transform life projects of small-holder farming families, communities, and small scale organizations in the rural sector by building and co-creating scalable and replicable initiatives. 

Fundación Alpina has a rich history in impact measurement, constantly refining its methods through past efforts and learnings. Committed to knowledge management and innovation, the foundation employs various tools to gauge the effectiveness and measurable transformations of its interventions. For example, implementing both formative (if the methodology and framework is delivered as intended) and summative (outcome evaluation focused on the observable conditions of participants) evaluation strategies each can play important roles in their efforts to evaluate their impact.  

This commitment ensures that every project not only meets its goals but also contributes to the broader understanding of sustainable agricultural practices.

Farmer voices

Many of the tools and metrics used by Fundación Alpina needed a more agile approach to listen and understand farmers’ perspectives, going beyond income and productivity to consider the overall transformation of their lives. In the search for such a tool, the Foundation discovered 60 Decibels’ Farmer Thriving Index, a standardized tool based on a representative sample of farmer voices. This index provides a holistic view of farmers’ conditions and needs regarding their resilience, farming outlook, and food security, as well as an assessment of the performance of relevant interventions on farmers’ well-being and climate resilience.

The key to this assessment’s relevance is capturing as many farmers’ voices as possible, allowing comparisons across regions and segments of farmers. Fundación Alpina decided to be one of the first movers in Latin America and the first Latam-based organization to apply it, and looked forward to sharing its findings with a broader audience and inviting them to grow the benchmarks.

Fundación Alpina and 60 Decibels listened to over 200 farmers across five regions in Colombia. The study yielded significant insights:

  • Income levels: The study confirmed that the foundation mainly works with the hardest-to-reach communities, with income levels significantly below Colombia’s average, even for the lowest income levels. Nearly four in five farmers report an increase in their earnings due to Fundación Alpina, with more females reporting increased earnings.
  • Impact performance: Farmers who received agroecological training reported increased productivity and better resilience to climate shocks, with women benefiting even more than men.
  • Conditions and needs: The smallholder farmers working with the foundation are better off in terms of food security but still need improvements in farming outlook and financial and agroecological resilience. This information helps the Foundation target its efforts more effectively.

These findings highlight the success and opportunities of the interventions and the importance of continuous learning and adaptation, in particular their rural extension methodology and toolkit as well as the sustainability strategy for Fundación Alpina’s interventions. 

Moving forward, these insights will guide future projects, ensuring they are more responsive to the actual needs and challenges faced by smallholder farmers. It’s also a valuable input for their upcoming 5-year strategic planning process and future priorities as a social lab. 

Call to action

The findings would be even more insightful with relevant benchmarks for Latin America and Colombia. We urge other organizations to adopt similar impact measurement models to enhance the effectiveness of agricultural interventions. 

Establishing benchmarks for farmers’ well-being across Latin America will require regional collaboration. By creating standardized measures of well-being, we can track progress, identify areas for improvement, and ensure more equitable and sustainable outcomes. This regional collaboration promises to elevate the standards of living for farmers and ensure more sustainable and impactful agricultural practices. 

By working together, in the social impact ecosystem, we can create a more accurate and actionable understanding of what truly benefits smallholder farmers in the region.

Carla Grados Villamar is the Latam growth lead at 60 Decibels.

Camila Aguilar is the executive director of Fundación Alpina.