Telephone farmers and an emerging ecosystem are unlocking the hidden middle of agricultural value chains in Kenya through innovation

Meine Pieter van Dijk*, Gigi Limpens, J.G. Kariuki, Diederik de Boer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article explores the potential of an emerging group of farmers in Kenya, namely the growing segment of urban-based medium-size farmers, often called “telephone farmers”. To what extent do they benefit from an emerging ecosystem to support them in operating their farms, and what does that mean for the Hidden middle of agricultural value chains, the actors between the farmers and consumers? Unlocking the potential production of telephone farmers will require more services from collectors, traders, transport firms, the storage facilities, wholesalers and processing units and retailers. Ultimately, optimized telephone farm production benefits the business of Hidden middle value chain actors, increases incomes and jobs and improves food security.

Based on a survey and in-depth interviews a profile of the telephone farmers is given and their role as innovators is analyzed. The Latia Resource Centre (LRC) provides assistance to medium-size farmers, like the telephone farmers, helping them to prepare business plans and use modern technology and contributing to an emerging ecosystem providing support to all farmers.

The article analyzes the medium-size telephone farmers. It documents the contributions of this new agricultural actor to developing value chains and a dynamic ecosystem. The paper profiles the telephone farmers first and then identifies what they need and the support they receive. The emerging innovative ecosystem impacts agricultural productivity and production and hence the development of value chains. Small farmers gain access to opportunities offered by telephone farmers, working for them as outgrower or farm worker.

Research limitations/implications
The authors used a small sample of 51 farmers and covered only a two-year period.

Social implications
Small farmers are being helped through the emerging eco-system and farm labor acquire skills, which they can also you on another or their own farm.

Based on the analysis an even more effective ecosystem is suggested and policy recommendations are formulated before the conclusion is drawn that these medium-size farmers contribute to innovation diffusion, inclusive value chain development and food security and are becoming part of this expanding, innovative ecosystem. Following the debate on food security the results suggest to pay more attention to the development of telephone farmers given their role in developing agricultural value chains and innovative ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-467
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies
Issue number3
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2023


  • telephone farmers
  • ecosystem
  • hidden middle
  • innovation
  • Kenya
  • value chains

Cite this