By Jennifer Leavy and Colin Poulton
Accelerated growth in agriculture is seen by many as critical if the MDGs are to be met inAfrica. 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.
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 strategiesfor 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 morecommercial agriculture will benefit primarily large-scale farms.
At best, the top minority ofsmallholders will be able to benefit.In this paper, therefore, we discuss what is meant by the commercialisation of agriculture,emphasising the different pathways that commercialisation can take. We also examine whatneeds to be done if agricultural commercialisation is to be inclusive, bringing benefits to alarge proportion of rural households.The potential benefits of commercialisation and engaging in trade are well documented.These include stimulating rural growth, which poor people can gain from directly, forexample through: improving employment opportunities (depending on the labour intensity ofcrops grown); increasing agricultural labour productivity; direct income benefits foremployees and employers; expanding food supply and potentially improving nutritionalstatus. Multiplier effects encompass increased demand for food and services in the local area (von Braun and Kennedy, 1994).