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By Samuel GebreselassieMarch 2006

Ethiopia’s inability to feed its population and thus its continued dependence on foreign donations of food to sustain millions of its citizens is a dilemma that triggers a broad economic and sociological debate. The problem of Ethiopian agriculture cannot be primarily explained by natural endowments. By any measure, Ethiopia is well endowed at least in part with a fertile soil, abundant water resources and good climatic conditions until recently. What needs careful analysis is why Ethiopian farmers continue to practice essentially the same farming methods with very little technical or management improvement for so long.

By Samuel Gebreselassie and Kay Sharp

The poverty-reduction strategy adopted by Ethiopia seeks to achieve growth through the commercialisation of smallholder agriculture. The Plan for Accelerated and Sustainable Development to End Poverty (PASDEP), Ethiopia?s strategic framework for 2005/06 – 2009/10, relies on a massive push to accelerate growth. This is to be achieved by efforts in two directions: commercialisation of agriculture, based on supporting the intensification of marketable farm products (both for domestic and export markets, and by both small and large farmers); and promoting much more rapid non-farm private sector growth (MoFED, 2005). This study aims to contribute to this plan by identifying factors that can deepen and expand the scope of market participation of smallholders.

Samuel Gebreselassie and Eva LudiMarch 2008

The coffee sub-sector is very important to the Ethiopian economy. In 2005, coffee exports generated 41% of foreign exchange earnings and provides income for approximately 8 million smallholder households. Policy attention to the sector was always considerable, and its importance has been renewed in the latest Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP). PASDEP puts forward a development strategy based on accelerated economic growth, part of which is hoped to be achieved via increased smallholder commercialisation and market integration.

Creating New Markets via Smallholder Irrigation: The Case of Irrigation-led Smallholder Commercialization in Lume District, Ethiopia

By Samuel Gebreselassie June 2010

Following the 2008 global food crises, the agricultural development agenda has gained renewed international attention. Though this observed price instability reflects largely short-term disequilibria between supply and demand, many - especially major food importing countries - consider it an indicator of a new era that is characterised by much more unstable food prices on the international markets (Galtier, 2009). Consequently, investors from these countries were encouraged to lease farm lands in relatively land and water abundant countries in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

Jennifer Leavy and Colin Poulton September 2007

According to this thinking, smallholder agriculture is uniquely positioned to deliver broad-based growth in rural areas (where the vast majority of the world?s poor still live). However, others fear that strategies for commercialising agriculture will not bring benefits to the majority of rural households, either directly or (in the view of some) at all. Instead, they fear that efforts to promote a more commercial agriculture will benefit primarily large-scale farms. At best, the top minority of smallholders will be able to benefit.

Accelerated growth in agriculture is seen by many as critical if the MDGs are to be met in Africa. Although there are debates about the future viability of small farms (Hazell et al. 2007), the official policies of many national governments and international development agencies accord a central role to the intensification and commercialisation of smallholder agriculture as a means of achieving poverty reduction.

By Steve Wiggins July 2009

Despite the achievements of smallholders in Asia during the green revolution, there is scepticism that Africa’s smallholders — who dominate the farm area in most countries — can imitate this model and deliver agricultural growth. This paper assesses whether such pessimism is justified.

Given the high transactions costs of hiring labour of farms, diseconomies of scale can be expected when labour is relatively cheap and abundant compared to other factors of production: which may explain the survey evidence that small farms often produce more per hectare than larger farms. In conditions of low development with relatively cheap labour, small units may have advantages over larger ones.

By Ephraim Chirwa, Andrew Dorward and Jonathan KyddFebruary 2008


Coffee cultivation in Malawi is dominated by a small number of large-scale commercial estates, located mainly in the Southern region. In the Northern and Central regions, however, coffee is grown predominantly by large numbers of smallholder farmers on customary land, concentrated in the districts of Chitipa, Rumphi, Mzimba and Nkhata-Bay.
By Samuel GebreselassieJanuary 2006

The prevailing orthodoxy is to see the problem of smallholder agriculture in Ethiopia strictly as a technical and resource related problem. This view identifies the low level of agricultural productivity as the key problem. In response, the government of Ethiopia has since the mid-1990s, implemented a high-profile, national technology-led extension programme. But has this worked, and what are the limitations of such a strategy

By Jennifer Leavy and Colin Poulton

Accelerated growth in agriculture is seen by many as critical to meeting MDGs in Africa. Many national governments and international development agencies see intensification and commercialisation of smallholder agriculture playing a central role in achieving poverty reduction. The potential benefits of commercialisation are well documented. According to this thinking, smallholder agriculture is uniquely positioned to deliver broad-based growth in rural areas, where the vast majority of the world’s poor people still live.

Full title: Factors Influencing Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: A Case of NASFAM Commercialisation Initiatives

Policy Brief 51by Ephraim Chirwa and Miriam Matita

Most of smallholder farming in Malawi focuses on producing food staples such as maize and rice for own consumption. The dominance of subsistence farming with traditional farming systems in the smallholder sector is one of the concerns in achieving agricultural productivity. The smallholder agriculture sector in Malawi remains unprofitable and is characterised by low uptake of improved farm inputs, weak links to markets, high transport costs, few farmer organizations, poor quality control and lack of information on markets and prices.

There are several initiatives by state and non-state actors that aim at promoting intensification and commercialisation of smallholder farming. One of the organisations spearheading the commercialisation of smallholder farming is the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a farmer –based organisation.

Policy Brief 50by Steve Wiggins

Small farmers in Africa have long been engaged with markets — for produce, inputs such as fertiliser, credit, labour, land and information. Opportunities to do so are increasing with urbanisation and better roads linking villages to cities, making questions that arise about smallholder commercialisation all the more important. Expectations about process and outcomes differ considerably.

What does the evidence show? How do small farms commercialise? What are the outcomes? Are the fears of undesirable outcomes justified? And what should policy-makers be doing to encourage better outcomes? This briefing reports the highlights of an extensive review of the literature on commercialisation of small farms in Africa.

Full title: From Subsistence to Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: A Case of NASFAM Commercialisation Initiatives

FAC Working Paper 37Ephraim W. Chirwa and Mirriam Matita

This paper investigates the relationship between food security and commercialisation using data from a household survey in National Smallholder Farmer Association of Malawi (NASFAM) operated areas. NASFAM promotes commercialisation of agriculture by introducing the principle of farming as a business among its members who are largely smallholder subsistence farmers.

The study finds that households with plenty of family labour are therefore likely to participate in NASFAM commercialisation initiatives. We also find a positive relationship between participation and value of durable assets, suggesting that wealth is an important determinant in the decision to participate in commercialisation. Household food security also increases the probability of participation, suggesting that when food markets are unstable, farmers that are not food secure may be constrained in their attempt to commercialize their farming systems. Furthermore, we find that the degree of commercialisation is negatively associated with age and household size but positively associated with food security, access to fertilizers, NASFAM business orientation and market access benefits.

FAC document de travail no. 41par Augustin Loada

Le présent article porte sur l’économie politique de la filière coton au Burkina Faso. Si l’histoire du succès économique de cette filière est bien connue, il n’en va pas de même pour le rôle de l’économie politique jusque là peu étudié.

Pays sahélien enclavé confronté à des conditions climatiques et écologiques peu propices au développement de l’agriculture, le Burkina Faso est pourtant cité comme un exemple de réussite dans la filière coton. Introduite en Afrique l’Ouest sous l’ère coloniale dans les années 20, la culture du coton connaît un succès qui n’est pas seulement dû aux innovations techniques apportées de l’extérieur mais aussi à la capacité d’innovation des producteurs (Thomas J. Basset, 2002). Mais la filière ne prendra son envol qu’au lendemain de l’indépendance en 1960, sous l’impulsion de la Compagnie française pour le développement des fibres textiles (CFDT), une société publique dont le champ d’intervention s’étendait dans la sous-région francophone.

Full title: Dynamics of Maize Seed Production Systems in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana: Agricultural Modernisation, Farmer Adaptive Experimentation and Domestic Food Markets

Future Agricultures Working Paper 61By Kojo Sebastian Amanor, June 2013

This Working Paper examines the dynamics of maize production in distinct environments and localities in Brong Ahafo Region, Ghana, and the various factors that have influenced patterns of agricultural adaptation, innovation and transformation. Specifically, it analyses the influences of neoliberal policies on the institutional framework of maize seed policy, on the technical recommendations of state institutions and on farmer production systems.

Drawing on detailed interviews with market traders and small-scale producers, it also contrasts the priorities of farmers with the recommendations of agricultural services and the extent to which research recommendations reflect or fail to reflect the actual developments in maize production systems. Finally, it explores the implications of policy support for the commercialisation of seeds for the wider seed system, including interactions between the formal, informal and market sectors.

Future Agricultures Working Paper 62Laura Silici and Anna LockeJune 2013

Private equity (PE) and venture capital are forms of investment that bring together specialised fund managers and investors to provide equity investments into private (i.e. non-publicly listed) companies. Compared to other emerging markets, the PE industry in Africa is still at an early stage of development but several circumstances suggest that its growth is proceeding at a sustained pace.

The agribusiness sector in Africa has become an increasingly important destination for investments, and investment in this sector is projected to grow further in future. PE may represent an additional, important source of capital for agriculture. However, due to lack of publicly available data, very little is known about PE deals concluded in Africa, where they stand within the panorama of agribusiness investments and the impact they have on local economies.

This study seeks to shed some light on the volume and the characteristics of PE investments in agribusiness in Africa, with the objective of assessing whether, and how, these could contribute to developing the sector.

This paper was produced under the Future Agricultures Early Career Fellowship Programme

CAADP Policy Brief 11

Accelerating growth in the agricultural sector by raising the capacities of private entrepreneurs – smallholder and commercial farmers – to meet the increasingly complex requirements of domestic, regional and international markets, is the central aim of CAADP Pillar II.

Commercialisation is about increasing engagement with markets. Smallholder farmers have long been engaged with markets for produce, inputs and information. Urbanisation, better communications and globalisation make understanding smallholder commercialisation all the more important. This policy brief draws on recent research by Future Agricultures and asks:

How do small farmers commercialise? What have been the outcomes of small farmer commercialisation? How can policies support smallholder commercialisation and encourage good outcomes?

Full title:The Struggle over the Commons: Annual Savanna Fires and Transnational Mango Outgrower Schemes in Northern Ghana

FAC Policy Brief 62by Joseph A. Yaro and Dzodzi TsikataJuly 2013

Northern Ghana is characterised by rain fed agriculture, poor infrastructure, food crop production and poor export-oriented agriculture. Large-scale agriculture producing export crops has been one of the many suggestions made to reduce poverty in the region. However, annual savanna fires destroy investments in commercial and food crop agriculture due to a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of these fires. The underlying causes of fires and their control cannot merely be attributed to overt reasons; they result from socio-political causes such as dissatisfaction with processes of disenfranchisement and social exclusion. This raises many questions regarding the plausibility and efficacy of introducing a modern export-oriented organic mango farming project in improving the local economy of northern Ghana.

This brief examines the Integrated Tamale Fruit Company (ITFC) outgrower farm model, which fits well into the government’s value chain approach to agricultural commercialisation with an export focus. Savanna fires are not necessarily destructive as the current policy formulations prescribe, but an understanding of the varied uses of these fires, the timings and a negotiated management of natural resources including land, is important in regulating the use of fires in ways beneficial to all land users.

Future Agricultures Working Paper 72Khamaldin Mutabazi, Steve Wiggins & Ntengua MdoeAugust 2013

African agriculture is predominantly carried out on small-scale family farms. The big question about such family farms is whether they can be successfully commercialised within their current structures, or whether they should give way to commercial medium and large-scale farm enterprises. In more detail, the following questions arise about the experience of commercialisation of small farms in Africa and their prospects. Under what conditions, and with what encouragement from policy, may small farms be commercialised? Does commercialisation benefit smallholding households? Does commercialisation increase social differences? Does commercialisation raise risks in the markets to unacceptable levels?

This study addresses primarily the first two questions about the nature of commercialisation, its benefits and impacts on food security. Four villages in Tanzania that produce commercial crops for sale, mainly onions, were studied.

La culture du café au Malawi est dominée par un petit nombre de grandes plantations commerciales, principalement situées dans les régions du sud, du nord et du centre du pays. Malgré cela, le café reste principalement cultivé par un très grand nombre de petits agriculteurs sur les terres coutumières, concentrées dans les districts de Chitipa, Rumphi, Mzimba et Nkhata-Bay.

La participation des petits exploitants à la production de café remonte au début des années 1920. Elle commencé à se développer véritablement dans les années 1950, après que le gouvernement colonial ait distribué des plants de café aux agriculteurs basés dans les régions des collines de Misuku, du Chitipa et du Nord. On recense aujourd’hui environ quelque 3 200 petits producteurs de café, toujours concentrés sur les collines de Misuku. Le secteur des petites exploitations de café a connu de profondes réformes ces dernières années. Des données empiriques suggèrent que ces réformes ont donné aux petits agriculteurs les moyens de conduire leurs propres affaires et ont incité ces derniers à développer une approche plus commerciale. Cet article se propose d’analyser les données disponibles.

Titre complet: Facteurs influençant l’agriculture commerciale paysanne: Étude de cas – Initiatives de commercialisation paysanne de la NASFAM

Point info 51 par Ephraim Chirwa et Miriam Matita

Au Malawi, l’agriculture paysanne est essentiellement axée sur la production d’aliments de base, comme le maïs et le riz, destinés à la consommation des ménages de petits exploitants. La domination de l’agriculture de subsistance, reposant sur les systèmes agricoles traditionnels des petits exploitants est l’un des obstacles préoccupants à la productivité agricole. Dans le pays, le secteur de l’agriculture à petite échelle n’est toujours pas rentable et se caractérise par un faible taux d’utilisation d’intrants agricoles améliorés, la faiblesse des liens avec les marchés, des frais de transport élevés, le petit nombre d’organisations d’agriculteurs, un contrôle médiocre de la qualité et l’absence d’informations sur les marchés et les prix. Plusieurs initiatives d’acteurs publics et non publics, visent à encourager l’intensification de la production agricole à petite échelle et sa commercialisation. Parmi les «fers de lance» de l’agriculture commerciale paysanne, citons la National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (Association nationale des petits agriculteurs du Malawi, NASFAM), une organisation agricole.

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