Male and stale? Questioning the role of “opinion leaders” in agricultural programs

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Springer Nature
Social networks can influence people’s behaviour and therefore it is assumed that central individuals in social networks, also called “opinion leaders”, play a key role in driving change in agricultural and food systems. I analyse the outcomes of an intervention (that encouraged Sulawesi smallholder farmers to take a specific action toward improving the health of their cocoa trees) to assess the impact of engaging opinion leaders in agricultural programs that aim to change farmers’ practices. The intervention has been implemented through (a) 18 opinion leaders identified by interviews and a social network survey of 1885 cocoa farmers; and (b) 18 randomly selected farmers who were not central in local social networks. The obtained social networks and statistical data were quantitatively analysed and the results were interpreted with input from the field staff. Contrary to expectations, the highly socially central opinion leaders were not more effective in promoting the initiative in their communities. On average, randomly selected low-centrality farmers convinced almost twice as many of their peers to take the recommended action as compared to the identified opinion leaders (17.1 versus 8.6) but the variation within the random group was also significantly higher. Importantly, while the identified opinion leaders were mostly senior men, women performed better in influencing others into taking action even when their centrality in local social networks of agricultural advice was lower. I discuss the implications of the conventional selection of perceived opinion leaders as model farmers for achieving sustainable and equitable change at scale in agriculture and propose practical alternatives.
© The Author(s) 2022. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Agriculture and Human Values, 2023, available online at: . Keywords: opinion leaders; model farmers; social networks; smallholder agriculture; development programs; Indonesia; Sulawesi.
Matous, P. Male and stale? Questioning the role of “opinion leaders” in agricultural programs. Agric Hum Values (2023).