Original Research

What works for poor farmers? Insights from South Africa’s national policy evaluations

Sarah A. Chapman, Katherine Tjasink, Johann Louw
African Evaluation Journal | Vol 9, No 1 | a548 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aej.v9i1.548 | © 2021 Sarah A. Chapman, Katharine Tjasink, Johann Louw | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 April 2021 | Published: 10 August 2021

About the author(s)

Sarah A. Chapman, School of Management Studies, Faculty of Commerce, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Katherine Tjasink, Khulisa Management Services, Johannesburg, South Africa
Johann Louw, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: Growing numbers of developing countries are investing in National Evaluation Systems (NESs). A key question is whether these have the potential to bring about meaningful policy change, and if so, what evaluation approaches are appropriate to support reflection and learning throughout the change process.

Objectives: We describe the efforts of commissioned external evaluators in developing an evaluation approach to help critically assess the efficacy of some of the most important policies and programmes aimed at supporting South African farmers from the past two decades.

Method: We present the diagnostic evaluation approach we developed. The approach guides evaluation end users through a series of logical steps to help make sense of an existing evidence base in relation to the root problems addressed, and the specific needs of the target populations. No additional evaluation data were collected. Groups who participated include government representatives, academics and representatives from non-governmental organisations and national associations supporting emerging farmers.

Results: Our main evaluation findings relate to a lack of policy coherence in important key areas, most notably extension and advisory services, and microfinance and grants. This was characterised by; (1) an absence of common understanding of policies and objectives; (2) overly ambitious objectives often not directly linked to the policy frameworks; (3) lack of logical connections between target groups and interventions and (4) inadequate identification, selection, targeting and retention of beneficiaries.

Conclusion: The diagnostic evaluation allowed for uniquely cross-cutting and interactive engagement with a complex evidence base. The evaluation process shed light on new evaluation review methods that might work to support a NES.


national evaluation system; policy evaluation; smallholder farmer; poor farmer; South Africa; diagnostic evaluation


Total abstract views: 3447
Total article views: 3352


Crossref Citations

1. Productivity and constraints of small-scale crop farming in the summer rainfall region of South Africa
VN Mathinya, AC Franke, GWJ Van De Ven, KE Giller
Outlook on Agriculture  vol: 51  issue: 2  first page: 139  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1177/00307270221091839