APRA researchers to hold a national dissemination workshop in Ghana

APRA researchers in Ghana are gearing up for a national dissemination event! The event will be filled with presentations from the two APRA teams working in the country (Work Streams 1 and 2), and, more generally, on APRA’s objectives, research projects and findings. The workshop will be held at 10.00 GMT on Tuesday, November 30th at the Alisa Hotel in Accra.

The presentations will be given by those researchers leading APRA Ghana’s work, including Prof Joseph Yaro, APRA’s West Africa hub coordinator; Prof. Kojo Amanor, the lead for APRA’s work on cocoa in Ghana (Work Stream 2); and Dr Fred Dzanku, the coordinator for APRA’s research in Ghana and lead for its work on the country’s oil palm value chain (Work Stream 1).

Invited participants include representatives from the Ghana Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the Ghana Agricultural Workers Union, the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research, Wageningen University and Research and the International Institute of Social Studies.

Presenters will seek to address the central question: Which pathways to agricultural commercialisation are the most effective in empowering women, reducing rural poverty, and improving food and nutrition security in Ghana? The researchers involved have spent the last five years working to address this question as it pertains to Ghana’s agricultural commercialisation through in-depth, interdisciplinary, and comparative research. The purpose of this event is to present some of the APRA team’s findings, and the relevant, practical policy insights they have developed, with the hope to solicit feedback and input from other stakeholders across the policy and practice arena.

Essentially, the presentations at the event will address evidence related to: (a) Agrarian change and commercialisation in the Ghanaian cocoa sector, and (b) Oil palm commercialisation arrangements and household welfare in south-western Ghana. After the presentations, attendees will have an opportunity to provide professional insight on APRA’s research findings and their policy implications in Ghana, and raise issues for broader consideration. Subsequently, there will an interactive session in which participants will discuss the key policy messages arising from the evidence shared, followed by a Q&A session for APRA researchers to answer any emerging questions.

You can join this event virtually, on the Facebook livestream!

APRA Ethiopia’s national dissemination workshop: A pathway to policy change?

APRA Ethiopia researchers have spent years studying the country’s rice value chain and identifying its role in providing a pathway out of poverty for the farmers who engage in it. The team has explored the role of increased rice commercialisation for the observed agrarian changes and the livelihood trajectories on the Fogera Plain, and engaged with efforts both within and beyond the country to promote the sustainable development of the rice sector. Such efforts have included team members’ participation in events such as the East African Rice Conference in May 2021, which gathered representatives from other East African countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – to identify policy reforms to transform Africa’s rice sector through scientific innovations.

Recently, the APRA Ethiopia team has been compiling its research outputs on the country’s rice sector in order to share it with national stakeholders, researchers, policymakers, government officials, development partners and more at a national dissemination workshop  entitled “Rice sector transformation event in Ethiopia: Lessons from the APRA Programme” on 29 November, 2021, from 10.00 AM – 12.30 PM EAT. At this event, Dr Dawit Alemu, APRA Ethiopia country lead, will be presenting the team’s research, how it relates to rice commercialisation, agrarian changes and livelihood impacts, and the lessons learned from the APRA programme to inform policymaking moving forward in the country. Opening remarks, discussions, plans and hopes for the future, and closing remarks will be shared by attendees including HE Dr Meles Mekonnen, State Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Mandefro Nigussie, CEO of the Agricultural Transformation Institute, and HE Mr Omer Hussein, Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Rice is a relatively new crop in Ethiopia. However, in recent years, the crop has grown to become one of the country’s most important commodities both in terms of domestic production, import and overall consumption. As such, understanding this crop value chain is critical to encouraging progress in the country’s agricultural sector and identifying pathways to empowering women, reducing rural poverty, and improving food and nutrition security in Ethiopia. The APRA Ethiopia team hopes this event will facilitate such progress in understanding and policy development.

Join this event and learn more about APRA Ethiopia’s research, and their vision for the future of the rice sector, here.

Meeting ID: 862 0403 6378

Passcode: 047384

APRA Nigeria team prepares to present findings in dissemination event

Over the previous five years, the APRA Nigeria Work Stream 2 (WS2) team has been working to explore longitudinal change over time, and identify different pathways of agricultural commercialisation and their outcome pathways in the country. Now, as the team has been compiling their research into reports and identifying policy implications of their findings, they will be hosting a dissemination workshop to present these findings and pathways, to share the way forward they see for Nigeria’s small- and medium-scale farmers.

On Friday 26 November, 2021, the team will gather together stakeholders in the cocoa value chain, representatives of Nigerian governmental agencies, fellow researchers, and more to present, discuss and receive feedback on their research.

Presenters include members of the WS2 team: Dr K.A Thomas, Dr M.O. Olutayo and Dr O. Adeola Olajide

To participate in this event and learn more about Nigerian Work Stream 2’s findings, click here.

In addition to this national event, two additional state events will also take place on 15 and 17 December, 2021, in order to share research findings at the state and local government levels.

A multi-phase assessment of the effects of COVID-19 on food systems and rural livelihoods in Ethiopia: The case of Fogera Plain

Written by: Dawit Alemu

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only led to the loss of human life and resulted in an unprecedented challenge to public health, but has also seriously affected food systems and work opportunities. Following the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in Ethiopia on 13 March 2020, and concerns about the sharp increase in cases, the federal government put in place different measures to prevent and control the pandemic that have affected the food system and rural livelihoods. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA’s Multi-Phase Assessment of the Effects of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Ethiopia: The Case of Fogera Plain, which presents the characteristics and awareness of the country’s different public measures, the responses to these measures, their effect on farming and marketing, food and nutritional security on smallholders, and perceived/self-assessed household level of poverty, drawing on primary data generated from three rounds of surveys and key informant interviews of rice farmers and other actors in the Fogera Plain of Ethiopia.

COVID-19 preventive and control measures and awareness

In general, the measures can be categorised into three phases: (i) the five-month State of Emergency, from April to September 2020; (ii) the period of implementation of the directive issued for the prevention and control of the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2020; and (iii) the period from November 2020 when some relaxation of the restrictions began. Overall, rice farmers from the study area were aware of COVID-19 threats, and prevention and control guidelines over the three rounds of the survey, specifically those measures related with the State of Emergency (April 2020), the enacted directive (October 2020), and the adjusted directive.

Responses to the threat of COVID-19

The results indicate that many respondents remained sceptical about the seriousness of the outbreak and compliance with government guidelines continued to be very limited – mainly due to a limited understanding of the danger of COVID-19, limited access and capacity to buy required inputs (sanitiser, masks), and a lack of regulatory measures to enforce the guidelines.

Effect of COVID-19 on farming, labour and marketing

The results indicate that agricultural activities continued to be minimally affected, whereas devastating floods, which occurred during the second round of surveys (October 2020), emerged as a more serious challenge and caused major disruption and displacement. Access to agricultural inputs remained a bottleneck, with the proportion of respondents reporting a decline in availability surging from 22% in the first round (July 2020), to 51% in the second (October 2020), and 71% in the third round (February 2021), while the number reporting an increase in input prices rose slightly from 71% to 74%, and to 87% over the three rounds.

The ability to sell produce at local and regional markets improved over time, with the proportion of respondents reporting a decline decreasing from 33% to only 6% (local markets) and from 32% to 8% (regional markets) between the first and third rounds, implying improvements in marketing opportunities linked with the relaxation of trading and movement restrictions.

Effect of COVID-19 on food and nutrition security

COVID-19’s impact on food and nutritional security was assessed in terms of availability of diverse food items, price trends, and the perceived level of household food and nutritional security. Accordingly, an increase in the proportion of respondents reporting reduced availability of foods over the three periods of the survey was observed for root crops, milk and milk products, meat and poultry, and dark green vegetables, which indicates that food availability continued to be directly or indirectly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For most food items, more than 50% of respondents reported an increase in food prices over the three surveys due to the direct or indirect effect of COVID-19, mainly for milk and milk products, pulses, and processed food, which indicates that the price of nutritious foods increased more than other types of food items, like cereals.

Food security seems to have improved over time, with the proportion of respondents reporting their worries about not having enough food to eat decreased from 64% in the first round to 30% in the third round. In addition, indications of consumption at levels below necessary intake decreased from 31% in the first round to 17% in the third.

Nutritional security also improved initially, with the proportion of respondents reporting an inability to eat healthy and nutritious food decreasing from 42% in the first round to 31% during the second round. This was primarily associated with emergency assistance provided by the government and non-governmental organisations in response to the flood in the Fogera Plain. However, the reduction of this emergency assistance saw this figure increase to 61% during the third round survey.

The self-assessed level of poverty

The self-assessed level of poverty indicated by male-headed households was on average better than that of female-headed households, with about a one-step difference based on the responses before COVID-19 and during the three rounds of survey. In addition, distribution of respondents by the perceived level of poverty indicates that there was a general increase in the proportion of respondents who rated themselves five and below (decline in perceived poverty), and a general decline in those who rated themselves six and above over the three rounds of surveys, compared to their rating before the COVID-19 pandemic (increase in perceived poverty).


Though COVID-19 prevention and control measures were put in place and rice farmers are aware of them, the results indicate limited compliance to them under the study area context. In general, agricultural activities were not affected by the pandemic, though access to agricultural inputs remained a bottleneck, and the ability to sell produce was a challenge especially during the initial period.

The effect of COVID-19 on food and nutritional security manifested in the reduced availability of food items such as root crops, milk and milk products, meat and poultry, and dark green vegetables. The extent of reported nutritional security impacts has declined over the survey periods. Similarly, the self-assessed household poverty indicates a decline, which shows the cumulative effect of COVID-19 under the rural context of Fogera Plain of Ethiopia.

APRA Brief 28: COVID-19 and Social Differentiation in African Agriculture

Written by: Helen Dancer and Imogen Bellwood-Howard

This brief presents a summary of key findings from a multi-country study of social differentiation in African agricultural value chains in the context of COVID-19. It aims to understand how trends in the politics and participation of different actors in agriculture have contributed to patterns of social differentiation, and how these patterns have interacted with the shock of COVID-19. It brings attention both to the implications of political decision-making and the effects of the pandemic on value chain structures and those working within the sector.

e-Dialogue Series 2021-22: Towards an Equitable and Sustainable Transformation of Food Systems

The United Nations Food Systems Summit, held in September 2021, set an agenda for the sustainable transformation of food systems.

Central to this transformation must be progress on reducing the high levels of poverty and inequality that afflict the world’s rural populations, and which have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Chair’s Summary Statement of Action at the Summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on governments and partners to meet the commitments they made to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, observing: “The journey has profoundly affirmed that our food systems hold the power to realize our shared vision for a better world. There is a recognition that we must build on good practices… invest in science and innovation, and engage all people — particularly women and youth, Indigenous Peoples, businesses and producers — in achieving the SDGs”. Now begins the work of turning ideas into action to transform food systems and ensure that no one is left behind.

Starting in October 2021 and run over 12 months, this e-Dialogue series will be an in-depth exploration of who is at risk of being left-behind and who is benefitting as food systems transform. Drawing on a wide range of perspectives, disciplines, and approaches, we will examine pathways for bringing greater equity and inclusivity to how food is produced and consumed. Foresight thinking will be used to explore the impact of differing scenarios for food systems transformation on local livelihoods and rural economies.

Session 1: Integrating Equity into Food Systems Research and Development

The series will kick off on the 19th of October 2021 with a dialogue on Integrating Equity into Food Systems Research and Development linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Maize. Register for this event, here!

We will build on the content and format of the successful 2020 e-Dialogue series on “What Future for Small-Scale Farming?to look at equity issues across the whole food system.

The 2021-22 e-Dialogue series will engage leading practitioners who can link on-ground realities and the latest research to the challenges of policy innovation. A key objective will be to create a space for leading practitioners to share their insights and link across countries and regions.

Topics to be covered will include:

  • Re-framing the challenge – exclusion and inclusion in food system transformation?
  • Advancing equity in development-oriented agricultural research
  • Exploring transition pathways for equitable and inclusive commercialisation in Africa
  • Understanding the effects of COVID-19 on food systems and local livelihoods
  • Creating living incomes within food systems
  • Progress and critical constraints to women’s economic empowerment in food systems
  • Enabling fair employment and enterprise opportunity in the food system midstream, particularly for women and youth
  • Enhancing data systems for tracking food system inequality

Each e-Dialogue event will involve a diverse array of highly experienced speakers in a dynamic and engaging conversation with audience questions. For some session follow-up interactive virtual workshops will be held.  A series of blogs, vlogs and podcasts will be used to capture and disseminate the outcomes.

The e-Dialogue series has an open format enabling organisations and partners to link their work into the series and host an e-Dialogue event on a particular theme.

The first session on 19th October will be followed by 3 dialogues on Inclusive Agricultural Commercialisation and Rural Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa exploring the key findings and policy lessons emerging from the APRA Programme.

The rest of the e-Dialogue series will wrap up with a hybrid face-to-face and virtual event in November 2022.

The e-Dialogues are being hosted by FAC’s APRA Programme, Foresight4Food, and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). These networks connect to over 2,000 members worldwide. APRA/FAC, Foresight4Food and SDSN are seeking to expand the hosting group and welcome other interested groups to join the partnership hosting the e-Dialogue series.

Support for APRA’s contribution to the e-Dialogue series is provided by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). APRA is funded with UK aid from the UK FCDO and will run from 2016-2022.

Stakeholders’ take on inclusive agricultural value chains in Tanzania: Feedback from a national workshop

Written by: Aida Isinika, Ntengua Mdoe and Evelyn Otieno

The Tanzanian government, in its efforts to provide food, income, employment and foreign income to its population, is committed to improving the country’s rice and sunflower value chains. This commitment was reiterated at a national feedback workshop held on 26th October, 2021 at the Institute of Rural Development Planning in Dodoma. The workshop was organised by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) in its efforts to share key messages from its five-year-long studies on the most effective pathways to agricultural commercialisation for women empowerment, reduction of rural poverty and improvement of nutrition and food security.

In alignment with the national government’s identification of rice and sunflower as critical to these goals, the APRA Tanzania team has conducted studies in Mngeta division of Kilombero district and Iramba and Mkalam districts of Singida region on rice and sunflower, respectively. APRA has also researched the impact of climate change and COVID-19 on livelihood outcomes for different categories of rice and sunflower farmers.

Emerging feedback

Increased yields and improved productivity were key priorities of this national feedback workshop, which was attended by 38 stakeholders comprised of researchers, farmers, traders, processors, extension officers, policymakers and representatives from non-governmental organisations. “In the case of rice, the government is guided by the second phase of the rice strategy which aims to double yields and increase the area under irrigation,” explained Mr Obadi Nyagiro, Tanzania’s director of policy and planning in the Ministry of Agriculture. Mr. Nyagiro added that the country aims to improve sunflower productivity to reduce Tanzania’s dependency on imported edible oil, on which the country spends about US$2.2million. As medium- and long-term solutions, the government has increased budget allocation for research, seed development, and the improvement of extension services.

The feedback workshop builds on a participatory research process, the findings of which have been shared through the local media and in different forums. Some of these forums include a participatory impact pathways analysis which was conducted in 2017, feedback forums conducted in Kilombero and Mkalam districts, and the regional East Africa Rice Conference which brought together 46 participants to explore a regional strategy for sustainable and inclusive development of rice in East Africa.

Opening ceremony

The national feedback workshop was opened by Mr Obadi Nyagiro. Speaking on behalf of Professor Siza Tumbo, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Nyagiro commended APRA for the studies, noting that they provide policy recommendations for stakeholders at different levels. The opening session was followed by presentations on each value chain, a plenary session, and group discussions.

Key points

The workshop highlighted both the benefits of agricultural commercialisation in the rice and sunflower value chains, and the challenges facing this process and the people affected by it. It is this duality that provided a clear, holistic representation of the process, so all considerations can be accounted for in discussions. For example, while there are theories which suggest that agricultural commercialisation is good for the achievement of sustainable development, there are also losers in the process. In line with APRA findings, the workshop discussed that agricultural commercialisation has contributed to poverty reduction, but not for everyone. As some families and communities have acquired more income, competition for resources such as land, labour, and capital has increased. This, coupled with shocks such as prolonged sickness, death of a breadwinner and loss of employment or collapse of businesses, has increased poverty levels for some families, especially those which own small pieces of land.


Feedback from group discussions showed that there are opportunities for women and youth to engage in agricultural commercialisation. For instance, credit facilities provided by local governments can address the challenges to resource ownership as identified by APRA studies. However, since these resources are scarce, recipients’ options are limited to small projects. The conference recommended that in addition to credit facilities, local governments should improve strategies to encourage women and youth to engage in higher levels of crop value chains with higher returns.

For example, women and youth who are organised in groups should be linked to institutions which provide credit in kind such as in the form of inputs like seed and fertiliser. Village community banks, which are already being used to save and provide credit, can also be used to channel credit to marginalised groups.

The workshop also recognised the government’s initiative to distribute subsidised locally developed sunflower seed to farmers in Dodoma and Singida, of which they had distributed 1,600 tonnes by October 2021. Feedback and discussions highlighted that there should be more even more effort to support the agricultural seed agency to improve seed availability to traders and subsequently farmers. 

Participants made several more recommendations, including:

  • Extension agents should provide on-farm advice for fertiliser application;
  • Farmers and other stakeholders should be trained on aspects such as agronomy, marketing, agricultural insurance, and business skills;
  • Processing and packaging could be improved to enhance the competitiveness of products in local and regional markets;
  • Stakeholders should promote the use of by-products, such as sunflower seed cake, to reduce their export;
  • The government should improve institutional frameworks to enhance the resilience of agricultural value chains against shocks such as the global COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Diversification should not only focus on agriculture, but also consider non-farm activities to ensure the inclusion of women and youth in sustainable development.


In closing, Dr Nicholaus Kuboja, the Director of Planning at the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, pointed out the need for research to address different audiences such as farmers and local communities. Mr. Nyagiro ensured that the government is willing to work on challenges and opportunities identified by research, which gives participants and Tanzanians a reason to be optimistic moving forward.

A Multi-Phase Assessment of the Effects of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Malawi

Written by: Mirriam Matita and Masautso Chimombo

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions to national and global economies with devastating effects on food systems and livelihoods across the globe. These effects of the pandemic on poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, among others, are likely to be greater among low and middle-income countries like those in sub- Saharan Africa, including Malawi. This is because even before the COVID-19 pandemic began the proportion of people facing poverty, and food and nutrition insecurity were already high. It is, therefore, imperative to understand the effects of COVID-19 on food systems and rural livelihoods. Using a multi-stage ‘rapid assessment’, this study provides real-time insights into how the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in Malawi and how rural people and food and livelihood systems respond.

APRA Nigeria team shares research findings in Kaduna State

To disseminate their research results and the policy implications that arise from the APRA Nigeria Work Stream 1 (WS1) research, project team gathered community members in two areas of Kaduna State on the 15th-16th November 2021. These events were the first in a series of community-level workshops, which will be followed by a national dissemination workshop in December 2021.

The first Kaduna engagement event, was held in Soba Local Government Authority (LGA) on 15th November, 2021 , while the second was held in Chikun LGA on 16th November 2021. Workshop participants included medium-scale farmers, small-scale farmers, women farmers, community leaders, local government officials, extension agents, and other community stakeholders.

Opening remarks

Prof. Adebayo Aromolaran opened the events with a welcome address and an introduction was provided to the APRA research programme, its importance and the WS1 team. Prof Aromolaran explained that APRA is focused on working with key Nigerian stakeholders in agricultural and rural development to identify strategies for positive change in Nigeria. The APRA programme is interested in helping to improve the livelihoods of farm families, women, and youths across Nigeria by providing  research-based evidence to support the need for concrete changes in the food and agricultural systems of Nigeria. The WS1 team fits into this vision by examining the role of land policy and related strategies in promoting sustainable, equitable and productive agricultural commercialisation and rural transformation in the country.

Prof. Aromolaran also highlighted the event’s objective, emphasising that, “from the start of this research project, community leaders, extensions agents and farm households continually expressed frustration at the countless numbers of data gathering exercises they have been involved with in time past, but which have provided little or no feedback, nor directly resulted in any visible changes in government policy aimed at improving the livelihoods of farm households.”

The objective

This was the event’s context, as Prof. Aromolaran reminded the audience that, “we assured you all that this APRA project is not designed to only gather evidence but to advocate for the translation of the evidence into actionable policy measures that would improve the livelihood of farm households. A step in achieving this objective is to provide feedback on research findings and harvest contributions from the community level stakeholders on how best to address the observed gaps and challenges through policy.”

The meeting, therefore, served as a precursor to a forthcoming national level meeting in December, where the opinions of community-level stakeholders will be shared with national level actors. Aromolaran concluded, “In short, our objective is to make the voice of stakeholders at the community level to be heard clearly by national level actors. You are specially invited to be a voice for this community, and we look forward to harvesting your thoughts on how to improve the livelihoods of our farm households in Nigeria.”

Presenting the research

The research findings, presented by WS1 team members Dr. Milu Muyanga, Prof. Thomas Jayne, Dr. Lenis Saweda O. Liverpool-Tasie, Prof. Titus Awokuse, Prof. Adesoji Adelaja, and Prof. Adebayo Aromolaran, focused on agricultural commercialisation and medium-scale farming in Nigeria. The researchers explained that recent evidence documents changing structure of land ownership in sub-Saharan Africa as one of the major trends affecting agri-food systems. Studies in several other African countries, such as Ghana, Kenya and Zambia suggest a rapid rise in medium-scale farming, and these trends, though not formally documented have also been observed in Nigeria. It is believed that these emerging medium-scale farms might be a veritable policy tool to promote equitable agricultural commercialisation, empowerment of women and youth in agriculture, poverty reduction, and agricultural transformation objectives.

As such, over the last 5-6 years, the WS1 team set out to investigate the potential opportunities and challenges associated with medium-scale farming as a pathway into agricultural commercialisation, including the characteristics of the emerging medium-scale farms, their productivity compared to small-scale farms, the implications for livelihood outcomes, the potential drivers for agricultural commercialisation among medium-scale farms, and how these medium-scale farmers influence the behaviour and welfare of the small-scale farm households around them.

Encouraging feedback

The participants were encouraged to share their thoughts and responses to the research during focus group discussions following the presentations.

Key findings and policy implications

The presentations highlighted four key findings:

  1. Small-scale farms are transitioning into medium-scale farms, but at a very slow rate.
  2. Potential drivers of increasing agricultural commercialisation include increased access to land, labour, agro-service and agro-input markets, road infrastructure, and extension services.
  3. Medium-scale farms are more productive than small-scale farms.
  4. Economically beneficial interactions exist between small- and medium-scale farmers.

Following on from these findings, the researchers presented four corresponding policy implications:

  1. A substantial increase in the per cent of small-scale farms that transition to medium-scale farms could be a major pathway to increasing agricultural productivity, employment generation and poverty reduction among rural farm households.
  2. Improvements in agricultural inputs markets, extension services and road infrastructure could contribute substantially to increasing farm households’ capacity to cultivate crops primarily for sale in the market.
  3. As demand for labour is a derived demand, the observed higher productivity translates into a greater potential to employ more farm hands, and thus substantially increase rural employment if growth in medium-scale farming is encouraged.
  4. Increasing opportunities for business interaction between small- and medium-scale farms in their neighbourhoods can contribute substantially to improving small-scale farm household commercialisation and livelihood outcomes, such as employment generation (through productivity increases), income increases and poverty reduction.

Plans for the future

The events ended with focus group discussions designed to provide participants with an opportunity to share feedback and make their voices heard in the research and subsequent policy influencing moving forward. The national workshop will be held via zoom on Thursday 16th December 2021, for which further details will be available shortly. This national workshop will be preceded by a similar set of community-level dissemination workshops in Imeko Afon LGA and Ijebu East LGA in Ogun State.

APRA Working Paper 75: Agricultural Commercialisation and Rural Livelihoods in Malawi: A Historical and Contemporary Agrarian Inquiry

Written by: Blessings Chinsinga, Mirriam Matita, Masautso Chimombo, Loveness Msofi, Stevier Kaiyatsa and Jacob Mazalale

This study was carried out to understand the underlying dynamics of agricultural commercialisation in Malawi, especially among smallholder farmers. Despite various concerted efforts to accelerate agricultural growth and transformation, the progress among smallholder farmers has been less satisfactory. Most of the smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent and sustainable basis. Consequently, the aim of this paper was to demonstrate that there is no one ideal type of agricultural commercialisation that can be realised through investment and policy intervention.

A Multi-Phase Assessment of the Effects of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Ethiopia: The Case of Fogera Plain

Written by: Dawit Alemu and Abebaw Assaye

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only led to the loss of human life and resulted in an unprecedented challenge to public health, but has also seriously affected food systems and work opportunities. As a global pandemic, COVID-19 has impacted food systems and livelihoods as a result of both economic and health challenges that emanate from domestic public policy measures, and also actions taken by other countries, mainly in the form of trade restrictions. Following the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in Ethiopia on 13 March 2020, and concerns about the sharp increase in cases, the federal government declared a state of emergency on 8 April 2020 which lasted for five months. This paper presents the assessment of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its prevention measures on agricultural commercialisation, food and nutrition security, labour and employment, as well as poverty and well-being in rural Ethiopia.

Agricultural commercialisation in Africa, COVID-19 and social difference

Written by: Imogen Bellwood-Howard and Helen Dancer

African policymaking has turned to agricultural commercialisation as an engine of growth in the 21st century. But the effects have not been the same for everyone, entrenching long-term social difference based on gender, wealth, age and generation, ethnicity and citizenship. Social differentiation within commercial agriculture is shaped by power dynamics and the distribution of benefits between elites, and their relationship with the formal and informal institutions that underpin political systems. This idea of a ‘political settlement’ in the way that power is exercised between groups, often to avoid conflict or to give preferential access to a specific resource, gives different groups of people different standing within agricultural value chains. COVID-19 as a type of shock also shapes political settlements and the resilience of different actors in their response to the pandemic. It can also reinforce pre-existing trends in social differentiation. APRA’s research showed how this has happened across Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, and APRA Working Paper 69 presents the research findings.

The African Union’s 2003 Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme encourages agricultural commercialisation. Models range from large-scale industrialised production on plantations owned by multi-national corporations, to intensification of individual smallholdings, and various contract farming and outgrowing arrangements. The outcomes of political processes affect how commercialisation proceeds in each place, and its effects on different people. Political settlements sometimes act to the benefit of global actors as well as local, politically powerful groups. For example, some governments have established programmes to appeal to large-scale companies to invest and access land, such as Ethiopia’s Agriculture Development Led Industrialisation and Tanzania’s Development Vision 2025.

When smallholder farmers have political weight, subsidies and land reform favour them, as in the case of Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme, and subsidy programmes in several sectors such as maize in Malawi, cocoa in Nigeria, and Tanzania’s National Agricultural Input Voucher Scheme which has coincided with election years. Import-export policies can be used in similar ways – rice import bans in Nigeria favour international companies established there as well as local processors.

Entrenched inequalities

While providing benefits for some groups, political settlements have entrenched patterns of social differentiation in agricultural value chains. The nature of people’s interest in agricultural land remains the most significant determinant of agrarian relations, with poor access to land for women and migrants being the most important and striking factor contributing to social differentiation. Access to land is closely tied to access to labour and other capital, credit and inputs. Many larger farms and businesses are corporate in nature. Such businesses are more likely to be owned by men, autochthons, household and lineage heads, older people and some ethnicities, than by women, migrants, junior household and lineage members and youth. People’s trajectories are not set in stone: they can certainly use resilience and ingenuity to succeed in unlikely circumstances, but structural inequalities make this difficult.

For farmers, control over and interaction with land is usually the most important factor influencing how successful they can be, and this is relatively hard to influence in the short term. Personal land access can be enabled in a family context. However, social, legal and customary norms constraining the land access of women, migrants and the poor, limit the space within which individuals can manoeuvre to obtain and secure access to land. Liberalisation of land markets has not significantly altered this trend. Labour relations often interact with land access, to the disadvantage of women, migrants and the poor, who tend to have smaller farms. Female and migrant traders and processors also tend to have smaller, less prosperous businesses.

Absorbing shocks

Such smaller businesses are less resilient to shocks such as COVID-19, largely because they have less capital. In the early stages of the pandemic, smaller businesses were less able to pay for longer term storage of goods, absorb losses due to spoilage, sit out periods of low demand, and continue to pay workers. They were also less likely to be eligible for government rescue packages. When such shocks affect smaller businesses, it affects their ability to prosper in the long term. In this way, social differentiation, which has been reinforced over the long term by political processes, is reproduced and perpetuated by short term shocks such as COVID-19.

For many agricultural value chain actors in Africa, COVID-19 has not been the most severe shock they have experienced, while simultaneously resembling other shocks in some ways. Some very small-scale actors were resilient, drawing on their ingenuity and learning from past shocks. People with these capabilities made big changes in the COVID-19 pandemic, for example switching from wholesale to retail, advertising on social media, changing sale location, stockpiling, or switching livelihood activity entirely. However, this was difficult because such people remain disadvantaged in their access to capital and other resources.

In the early stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 did not lead to the types of changes that shape long-term agricultural and farming trajectories, such as distress land sales or permanent migration. However, as it becomes endemic and more of a stress than a shock, there is a greater likelihood that such actions will happen. If so, COVID-19 will begin to contribute to more long-term, structural social differentiation.

Photo credit: Rasheed Hamis and Nuktar Muktadha

The role of small-scale processors in supporting agricultural commercialisation among smallholder rice farmers in East Africa: Lessons from Ethiopia and Tanzania

Written by: Dawit Alemu

Until recently, attention to upgrading the rice value chain has been limited in many of Eastern Africa’s rice-producing countries. Yet, it is this mid-stream section (the millers and traders) – the so-called ‘hidden middle’ – which is essential to sustaining rice value chains’ capacity to contribute to food security in the region, as it fulfils a crucial intermediary role between supply and demand. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 74, which presents the characteristics and role of rice processors as key actors in rice sector development in East Africa as well as what challenges and opportunities they face, drawing on primary data generated from surveys and key informant interviews in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Socio-demographic characteristics of rice processors

The majority of rice processing facility owners surveyed in this study in both countries are men, accounting for about 90 per cent, with a small proportion (just under 10 per cent) owned and operated by women. The average age of processors is about 40 years and about 44 years, with about six and nine years of formal education, in Ethiopia and Tanzania, respectively.

Rice processors in Tanzania were more resource endowed compared to those in Ethiopia mainly in terms of land and tractor ownership. The average size of land owned in Ethiopia is 1.5ha, with a range of 0.25-4ha, while in Tanzania processors owned an average of 12ha, with a range of 0.81-0.82ha. In addition, a higher proportion of rice processors in Tanzania (28 per cent) own their own tractors compared to only 2.4 per cent in Ethiopia.

Ownership and use of processing technologies

The survey results indicate a difference in the type of processing technology use between the two countries, where the majority of processors (84.3 per cent) in Ethiopia own one-pass/polishing machine, followed by those owning a dehusking machine (38.5 per cent). In Tanzania, about 56 per cent of the processors own two-pass machines followed by one-pass/polishing machine (22 per cent). All types of machines are imported from China and operate either on diesel or electric power, and have different milling capacities. However, their level of efficiency is lower than the best that are available in the market due to the limited capacity of processors to afford higher quality machines.

Commercial behaviours of rice processors

The survey results indicate that rice processors’ engagement as milling service providers is very limited as none of the processors in Tanzania, and only 13.7 per cent of those in Ethiopia, are engaged exclusively in milling service provision without engaging in sourcing of paddy on their own. Rice processors have limited incentive in only providing milling services, as far greater benefits are gained through the procurement of paddy and sale of milled rice, and from the by-product market (broken rice and husks). In terms of paddy sourcing strategies, rice processors normally negotiate unit price either for paddy or milled rice. If the processer purchases paddy rice, then the whole milling service and by-products will belong to them. However, rice processors prefer to negotiate the unit price for the milled rice for two major reasons. The first is to shift the risk of paddy quality to the producers as the quality of paddy rice, especially in terms of seed size uniformity, is often low, which affects the quality and quantity of milled rice. The second reason is that it gives the opportunity to maximise benefits from the by-products (broken rice and husks) that are sold later by the processor.

Rice processors’ aspiration

The survey results indicate that 88.5 per cent of processors in Ethiopia and 81.3 per cent in Tanzania would like to expand their rice processing business through diverse mechanisms. On the other hand, about 59 per cent of processors in Ethiopia and about 41 per cent in Tanzania have plans to expand their business into non-rice related businesses including hoteling, construction, transport service provision, and also processing of other agricultural commodities.

Key challenges facing rice processors

The survey results indicate that processors face diverse challenges with considerable difference between the two countries in the importance of the identified challenges. The key challenges are:

  • Paddy supply: the main challenge were poor quality, shortage of supply, and the need to ensure timely aggregations,
  • Processing technology: about 52 per cent of the processors in Ethiopia and about 34 per cent in Tanzania reported that their processing machines are old models with limited efficiency, and about 63 per cent of the processors in Ethiopia and about 19 per cent in Tanzania reported that modern machines are not available in the local and domestic markets,
  • Technology transfer: we found that there is no strong public service to ensure better transfer and access to technology along with technology management skills, which has resulted in the prevalence of a traditional processing approach. The donor-supported initiatives to ensure transfer of rice-processing technologies are limited in coverage;
  • Licensing of processors and standard: the assessment indicated that there is no standard or uniformity in the facilities and space available among rice processors in both countries limiting the investment in required processing facilities;
  • Access to resources and services: processors in both countries reported limitations related to access to land, finance, skilled labour and electric power as key challenges to sustain and expand their rice processing business, and
  • Rice markets: the challenges were related to (i) the competition of imported rice, (ii) inadequate local demand for milled rice, (iii) limited price incentive to produce quality paddy and milled rice, and (iv) lack of market information.

Conclusion and recommendations

The development of a vibrant rice processing industry plays a crucial role in the expansion of rice production as a pull factor, along with enhancing the commercialisation of smallholders’ rice production. However, the rice processing industry in both countries faces a number of challenges that need due attention if the sector is to contribute to wider issues in the agricultural sector such as ensuring food security and import substitution to save the meagre foreign currency reserves.

In this regard, the main areas of interventions suggested are: i) modernising and building the capacity of rice processors to ensure the competitiveness of domestic rice with imported rice, (ii) standardising the key requirements for licensing a rice processing facility and incentivising processors for the different scales of operation to fulfil quality standard requirements which would require them to invest in key facilities, (iii) ensuring proactive public support in enhancing the transfer and adoption of rice technologies and their management practices, especially the post-harvest management technologies from countries with experience in rice processing (such as in Asia), and (iv) modernising the current rice marketing system that can provide adequate incentives for quality paddy rice production by farmers and quality milled rice production by processors.

A Multi-Phase Assessment of the Effects of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Zimbabwe

Written by: Vine Mutyasira

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to affect agri-food systems around the world and lay bare its fragility, worsening the welfare of millions of smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are anchored on agricultural activities. For the vast majority of sub-Saharan Africa, COVID-19 has coincided with a number of other macroeconomic shocks, which have also exacerbated the impacts of the pandemic on food security, nutrition and general livelihoods, as well curtailed policy responses and mitigation strategies. In Zimbabwe, the COVID-19 pandemic struck at a time the country was experiencing a worsening economic and humanitarian situation. This study focused more on community and household dynamics and response measures to cope with the pandemic. This paper presents a summary of findings emerging from a series of rapid assessment studies undertaken by the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) Programme in Mvurwi and Concession areas of Mazowe District in Zimbabwe to examine how COVID-19 is affecting food systems and rural livelihoods in our research communities.

APRA Working Paper 74: The Role of Small-Scale Processors in Supporting Agricultural Commercialisation Among Smallholder Rice Farmers in East Africa: Lessons from Ethiopia and Tanzania

Written by: Dawit Alemu, Aida Isinika, Hannington Odame and John Thompson

Until recently, attention to rice value chain upgrading has been limited in many rice-producing countries of Eastern Africa. Yet, it is this mid-stream section (the millers and traders) – the so-called ‘hidden middle’ – which is essential to sustaining the capacity of rice value chains to contributing to food security in the region, as it fulfils a crucial intermediary role between supply and demand. In this paper, we focus on the role of rice processors as key actors in rice sector development in East Africa along with what challenges and opportunities they face, drawing on primary data generated from surveys and key informant interviews in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

COP26: why a more sophisticated debate on livestock and the climate is needed

COP 26 Blue Zone, Glasgow (Ian Scoones)
Written by: Ian Scoones

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Last week I was in Glasgow at COP26, shuttling between events in the Blue Zone and the fringe across the city. It was overwhelming, with a cacophony of conflicting voices and views.

The first week including a flood of announcements on coalmethane and forests. Ambitious targets were set and large numbers were bandied around. Meanwhile the negotiations continue behind closed doors as protestors marched over the weekend, urging more radical and concrete action.

I was with a delegation of pastoralists, members of the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous and Peoples and Pastoralists network. We were aiming to highlight the more complex story around the links between livestock and climate change – going beyond the standard narrative that all meat and milk is bad.

WAMIP sheep for the climate action, Glasgow (Ian Scoones)

We hosted a photo exhibition exploring climate change and uncertainty in different parts of the world, and at another event with Nourish Scotland discussed the future of livestock systems under climate change with Scottish farmers and food groups. Our ‘sheep for the climate’ action gathered a group (with some fine Hebridean sheep) in Govan dry docks to highlight our recent report, which asks the question, are livestock always bad for the planet?.

An article in The Conversation summarised some of the main points and is reproduced below (under CC license). Also, do check out the full report, plus the briefings and information sheets (in eight languages) at this link: https://pastres.org/livestock-report/  

Cows and cars should not be conflated in climate change debates

Cattle driven into the Kenyan capital Nairobi for new pasture amid a severe drought navigate through city traffic. Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

With world leaders gathered for the COP26 summit in Glasgow, there is much talk of methane emissions and belching cows. The Global Methane Pledge, led by the US and EU and now with many country signatories, aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. This is seen as a “quick win” to reduce global warming and will have major implications for livestock production.

Livestock have become the villain of climate change. Some researchers claim that 14.5% of all human-derived emissions come from livestock, either directly or indirectly. There have been widespread calls for radical shifts in livestock production and diet globally to address climate chaos. But which livestock, where? As a new report I co-authored argues, it is vitally important to differentiate between production systems.

Not all milk and meat is the same. Extensive, often mobile, pastoral systems – of the sort commonly seen across the African continent, as well as in Asia, Latin America and Europe – have hugely different effects to contained, intensive industrial livestock production.

Yet, in standard narratives about diet and production shifts, all livestock are lumped in together. Cows are misleadingly equated with polluting cars and beef with coal. The simplistic “all livestock are bad” narrative is promoted by campaign organisations, environmental celebrities, rich philanthropists and policymakers alike. Inevitably, it dominates media coverage. However, a much more sophisticated debate is needed.

Delving into data

Our report delves into the data and highlights the problems with using aggregate statistics in assessing the impacts of livestock on the global climate.

Some types of livestock production, especially those using industrial systems, are certainly highly damaging to the environment. They generate significant greenhouse gas emissions and cause serious water pollution. They also add to deforestation through demand for feed and expanding grazing areas, for example. And, reducing the amount of animal-source foods in diets, whether in the global north or south, makes much sense, both for the environment and for people’s health.

But industrial systems are only one type of livestock production. And aggregate emission figures do not pick up the nuances of this reality. Looking across life-cycle assessments – a technique widely used to assess the impacts on climate change from different agri-food systems – we found some important gaps and assumptions.

One is that global assessments are overwhelmingly based on data from industrial systems. A frequently quoted paper looking at 38,700 farms and 1,600 processors only focused on “commercially viable” units, mostly from Europe and North America. However, not all livestock are the same, meaning that global extrapolations don’t work.

Research in Kenya, for example, shows how assumptions about emissions from African animals are inaccurate. Such livestock are smaller, have higher quality diets due to selective grazing and have physiologies adapted to their settings. They are not the same as a highly bred animal in a respiration chamber, which is where much of the data on emission factors comes from. Overall, data from extensive systems are massively under-represented. For instance, a review of food production life cycle assessments showed that only 0.4% of such studies were from Africa, where extensive pastoralism is common across large areas.

Another issue is that most such assessments focus on emissions impacts per animal or per unit of product. This creates a distorted picture; the wider costs and benefits are not taken into account. Those in favour of industrialised systems point to the high per animal methane emission from animals eating rough, low-quality forage on open rangelands compared to the potential for improved, methane-reducing feeds in contained systems. This misses the point: a wider, more integrated systems approach must encompass all impacts, but also benefits. For instance, some forms of extensive grazing can potentially increase soil carbon stocks, adding to the already significant store of carbon in open rangelands.

Then there’s the fact that methane and carbon dioxide have different lifetimes in the atmosphere and are not equivalent. Methane is a short-lived but highly potent gas. Carbon dioxide sticks around in the atmosphere effectively forever. Reducing warming can be addressed in the short term by tackling methane emissions, but long term climate change needs to focus on carbon dioxide. It therefore makes a big difference how different greenhouse gases are assessed and how any “global warming potential” is estimated. Simply put, cows and cars are not the same.

It also matters what baseline is used. Pastoral systems may not result in additional emissions from a “natural” baseline. For example, in extensive systems in Africa domestic livestock replace wildlife that emit comparable amounts of greenhouse gases. By contrast, industrial systems clearly generate additional impacts, adding significant environmental costs through methane emissions from production, the importation of feed, the concentration of livestock waste and fossil fuel use in transport and sunk infrastructure.

Climate justice

A more rounded assessment is necessary. Extensive livestock contribute to emissions, but it’s simultaneously true that they produce multiple environmental benefits – including potentially through carbon sequestration, improving biodiversity and enhancing landscapes.

Animal-source foods are also vital for nutrition, providing high density protein and other nutrients, especially for low-income and vulnerable populations and in places where crops cannot be produced.

Across the world livestock – cattle, sheep, goats, camels, yaks, llamas and more – provide income and livelihoods for many. The world’s rangelands make up over half the world’s land surface and are home to many millions of people.

As countries commit to reducing methane emissions, a more sophisticated debate is urgently needed, lest major injustices result. The danger is that, as regulations are developed, verification procedures approved and reporting systems initiated, livestock systems in Africa and elsewhere will be penalised, with major consequences for poor people’s livelihoods.

APRA Working Paper 73: Land and Labour Relations on Cocoa Farms in Sefwi, Ghana: Continuity and Change

Written by: Joseph Yaro, Joseph K. Teye and Steve Wiggins

When in the 1880s farmers in southern Ghana began to plant cocoa, their main concerns were finding land to plant and mobilising labour to do so. The issue of finding land remained paramount until at least the 1990s, when the land frontier of forest to clear for cocoa finally closed. The last forests to be planted were in the old Western Region and particularly in Sefwi, now the Western North Region. This paper examines how farmers in Sefwi obtained land and mobilised labour in the late 2010s, and how that has changed since the 1960s.

Online COVID-19 & poverty: Informing economic and social policy in Malawi

Event on the emerging evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on people living in poverty in Malawi and the policies needed to mitigate them.

About this event

This is a livestream of an in-person event.

How is COVID-19 impacting people living in poverty in Malawi? What are the policies needed to mitigate these impacts? Recent research from COVID Collective partners and APRA finds COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on people living in, or at risk of, poverty in Malawi – particularly in regard to their education, food security and livelihoods.

To discuss the emerging evidence surrounding these impacts and encourage an open conversation on the policies and actions needed to mitigate them, policymakers, donors, researchers and civil society actors gathered at a recent event.

This event was hosted by the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) with an introduction from the FCDO Development Director. APRA researcher Mirriam Matita joined the presentations to share data collected from studies understanding the impact of the pandemic on food systems and rural livelihoods.

Other presentations presented findings from recent research into the cross-cutting issues impacting people living in poverty, including education, food systems, livelihoods. For example, the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network (Overseas Development Institute) shared research on how the pandemic, and the response to it, intersect with wider efforts to address poverty and inequality. In addition, the Center for Global Development (CGD) & Centre for Educational Research and Training (CERT) presented new research on the impact of COVID-19 on education, prioritising re-enrolment (especially girls); measuring lost learning; and the policies for reopening and catch up.

After the presentations, the discussion opened up to hear responses from participants in the room and encouraged open discussion between this small audience of key actors, as well as to take questions from the online audience.


9.30 START
  • Welcome and introduction: United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO
  • Presentations:
  1. Center for Global Development (CGD) & Centre for Educational Research and Training (CERT): Investigating COVID-19 education policy response in Malawi
  2. APRA: Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems and livelihoods: See this presentation, here.
  3. Chronic Poverty Advisory Network (Overseas Development Institute): Social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the poorest and those at risk of impoverishment and the policies needed to mitigate them.
  • Responses from key stakeholders
  • Questions and discussion with participants and online audience

About the COVID Collective

The COVID Collective research platform offers rapid social science research to inform decision-making on some of the most pressing development challenges related to COVID-19. It brings together the expertise of global partner organisations, coordinated by the Institute of Development Studies. It is overseen by an FCDO and IDS Executive Committee supported by an Advisory Group made up of representation from partner institutions to help guide the evolution of the Collective.

Andy Bowden of FCDO explains that “FCDO are hosting this webinar on behalf of IDS who are coordinating the COVID Collective, which provides vital research.”

Read more APRA research on the impacts of COVID-19 in Malawi, here:

Read APRA’s research on the impact of COVID-19 on food systems and rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa, more widely, here:

APRA researchers to join 8th Annual ReNAPRI Stakeholders Conference

As the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes prepares to host its 8th Annual Stakeholders Conference, under the theme, ‘Transform: Toward Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems in Africa’, APRA researchers are gearing up for their side event! Conference sessions will include topics such as ‘Opportunities for building resilience of African farming systems’; ‘Going beyond the farm: Achieving resilience in downstream agrifood systems’; and ‘Building integrated and inclusive climate-smart, nutrition-secure pathways in sub-Saharan Africa’. APRA’s session on ‘Inclusive agricultural commercialisation: Lessons from Ghana and Nigeria’ will be held at 9:00am  GMT on Thursday November 18th.

The side event will be moderated by APRA CEO, John Thompson alongside Professor Joseph Yaro from the University of Ghana. Prof Yaro is also APRA’s West Africa hub coordinator and lead for its work on cocoa in Ghana. The APRA panel will consist of four West African APRA researchers: Nigeria-based Prof. Adebayo Aromolaran of Adekunle Ajasin University and Dr Oluwafunmiso Adeola Olajide of the University of Idaban, and Ghana-based Dr Fred Dzanku and Prof. Joseph Teye of the University of Ghana.

The panellists and moderators will seek to address the central question: Which pathways to agricultural commercialisation are the most effective in empowering women, reducing rural poverty and improving food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa? Over the past five years, this question has been addressed by APRA researchers across nine countries through in-depth, interdisciplinary, comparative research. The purpose of this side event is to present some of APRA’s policy and practically relevant insights from Ghana and Nigeria, and to solicit input from other stakeholders across the policy and practice space.

The one-hour event will include a brief introduction to APRA’s work, and presentations by the panellists to address evidence related to the following key questions:

  • What are the welfare outcomes for varying subgroups (men, women and youth) from selection into different commercialisation pathways?
  • What have been the long-term changes and outcomes of different pathways of agricultural commercialisation?

The presenters will also participate in a panel discussion to speak to policy messages and key ‘nuggets’ arising from the evidence they have shared, followed by a Q&A session to answer any remaining queries.

Register for the APRA side event, here.

Zimbabwe’s bumper harvest: what explains the success?

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

As farmers turn to the next season with the beginning of the rains, the country is in a good position having reaped a bumper harvest in 2020/21. An estimated 2.7 million tonnes of maize were produced, triple the amount in the previous season. Given COVID-19 and the endless lockdowns and restrictions, this is remarkable and witness to the possibilities of significant production if the rains are good.

For too long the narrative has been that after land reform in 2000 and the decline of large-scale commercial farming, Zimbabwe has shifted from a breadbasket to basket case, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary documented repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere.

However, the harvest this last season has been spectacular. Does this mean that the biased commentators can finally abandon this tired narrative? What are the factors that have contributed to this success?

Good rains make a big difference, but how reliable?

Well, obviously good rainfall makes a massive difference. In the last season, this was substantial and well spread. Without significant irrigation support, most farmers must produce on dryland fields, so good rains are essential.

However with climate change this is far from guaranteed, and the recent period has shown much variability. Often unexpected extreme events such as mid-season droughts, floods, even hailstorms, destroy the crops, even if on average the season is OK. Climate change predictions suggest that this is likely to be the pattern into the future, meaning mechanisms of climate adaptation are essential.

Planting in pits: the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme

One response to uncertain rainfall has been the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme – a system of zero tillage cultivation involving the construction of small pits allowing water and fertility to concentrate. The government reports that yields on such plots increased from on average 1.2 tonnes per hectare in extensive dryland fields to 5.3 t/ha on Pfumvudza plots.

This is impressive, and certainly our early assessments suggested boosts, although perhaps not quite as much. In some areas waterlogging and intensive weed growth hampered crop productivity and for some a lack of labour meant that digging pits in the required format was impossible.

Overall, there is little doubt that where such intensification occurred many people across the country, especially smallholder farmers in the communal areas, gained significant yields, even though these were on very small areas per household.

Indeed, scaling up Pfumvudza techniques is very difficult without mechanisation, as it is so labour intensive. As a focused gardening technique to guarantee outputs it works well (and the adaptations that people have adopted this year, such as combining with winter ploughing, changing the pit design to avoid water pooling, often even better). But Pfumvudza will not solve Zimbabwe’s agricultural production challenge given the still relatively limited areas involved, even when these are multiplied by millions of plots.

It is difficult to tell, but it’s very unlikely that Pfumvudza such plots contributed massively to the big total harvest given the areas involved. Pfumvudza has been important at the margins, especially for poorer, smallholder farmers, and of course as a result has become central to early electioneering by local politicians. Instead, this year maize outputs from larger farms across bigger areas were key contributors to the total.

Command agriculture

Here the government’s other favoured programme – Command Agriculture – probably came into play. The programme has been plagued by corruption scandals, poor delivery and costs a small fortune due to poor repayment patterns. Through the ministry of agriculture and with military support, programme offers loans to mostly to larger-scale farmers, often in the resettlement areas (mostly A2), including seeds, fertilisers, fuel and other inputs.

Not surprisingly, such support boosts yields and on larger areas in a good rainfall year, this results in big outputs, which have to be channelled to the state Grain Marketing Board to facilitate loan repayment. In terms of aggregate food production Command Agriculture certainly delivered in the last season, although the economics of this achievement can be seriously questioned.

Of course, only relatively few, often well-connected, farmers gain full access to Command Agriculture packages. Even if a wider group may get some elements, there are multiple complaints that delivery is delayed, the input packages are incomplete and that there is so much corruption in the system, it’s difficult to navigate as a normal farmer. Many in our land reform study areas don’t bother and prefer to go it alone.

Land reform boosts food security

My hunch is that it is the large numbers of land reform farmers, often farming on relatively small areas (around 5 hectares of arable) in the so-called A1 areas, who have made the difference, and are the major contributors to the harvest success. Twenty years on, they have settled into a rhythm of successful, small-scale production, with selective use of inputs but on areas significantly larger than their communal area counterparts, who may have a hectare or less of land to farm.

Supplementary irrigation in small plots may help, assisted by the massive growth of small pumps and irrigation pipes. Although such areas rarely focused on maize, except for early green maize in gardens, the possibility of emergency irrigation in some plots is there, although not required in the past year.

We have been studying land reform areas now for 20 years, and the results are interesting yet still poorly understood. Production of course varies massively between years, across our sites (from the high potential areas of Mvurwi to the dryland areas of the Lowveld around Chikombedzi) and between people (some highly commercialised, with increased mechanisation and others much more subsistence producers).

Overall production is significant as this is on large areas (a total of around 10 million hectares across A1 and A2 farms nationally). A boost in yield as happened this past year can make a huge difference in aggregate, offering opportunities for sustained national food security, with surplus grains either stored or invested in value addition activities. The massive increase in poultry production across our sites reflects this, again having positive benefits across communities.

In the past year, government stopped imports of food and has planned significant storage of surplus grains for future years. Perhaps more importantly, it is the local food networks between land reform areas generating surpluses and communal area neighbours and town dwellers that is important.

Such networks, facilitated by informal trade often centred on small towns and business centres, are central to boosting food security. In the past year, with movement restrictions, closed shops and disrupted value chains due to COVID-19, these informal, yet again poorly understood, networks have been essential. This is the case in all years, but has been especially so during the pandemic.

With land reform and the emergence of a networked food economy, people have something to fall back on. This is in stark contrast to South Africa, where with a loss of jobs, the closing down of the economy due to COVID and multiple restrictions imposed, people suffered extremely with hunger rife. As we have seen, this can lead to desperation and unrest.

In our study areas, many Zimbabweans have returned home, as with some land it’s easier to survive. People are carving out new plots, reclaiming land in the communal areas and getting subdivisions in the resettlements. Land reform not only provides food security, but also social security and political stability.

Structural shifts, new potentials

While much commentary focuses on the technical responses to crop production – with much partial boosterism around particular ‘solutions’ – it is this wider structural shift in land and agriculture brought about through land reform that is perhaps more important in explaining the harvest success in the past year.

And linked to this is the new food economy, connecting informal networks of trade, involving lateral exchanges between areas via urban areas, often circumventing the old, formal centralised system altogether (although this past year there were more deliveries to the GMB as payment systems have improved).

However, as the painful experience of the past 20 years since land reform has shown so clearly, such gains are not necessarily sustained. A very poor year can follow a good one with disastrous consequences. Nevertheless, the potentials of the new structural relations of land, agriculture and food that have followed land reform have been demonstrated this past year (as indeed before). What is needed is major investment in agriculture and rural development – beyond the technical programmes, despite their benefits – to ensure that these potentials are built upon for the future.

Photos by Felix Murimbarimba (planting pit digging in Masvingo; Mr Mapurisa delivering maize to Nyika GMB depot, Bikita)

APRA Ghana researchers to participate in University of Ghana conference

On Wednesday 3rd and Thursday 4th November, 2021, the University of Ghana’s School of Social Sciences will be hosting its seventh international conference. The event, under the theme ‘Addressing Africa’s Challenges in the 21st Century’, will cover a vast range of topics from ‘Leadership, Governance and Politics’ to ‘Environment and Climate’ and ‘COVID-19, Innovations, and Responses’.

One such topic is ‘Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa: Emerging Trends and Livelihood Implications’, which will be addressed under a panel discussion from 0900–1030 on 4th November, and moderated by Dr Steve Wiggins of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. The panellists include APRA researchers Dr Kofi Asante, Professor Joseph Yaro, Dr Olajide O. Adeola and Miss Fashakin, Oluwaseun, who will work together to highlight evidence on pathways to agricultural commercialisation in sub-Saharan Africa from four papers which address questions of associational life in oil palm production, land and labour relations in cocoa production, gender productivity differentials in cocoa productivity, and gender disparities in access to productive resources. The findings highlight current trends in agricultural commercialisation showing differences in the levels of challenges and opportunities, with practical and policy recommendations on making agricultural commercialisation inclusive to enhance livelihood wellbeing.

Other sessions include ‘Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change in Rain-Fed Vegetable Production in West Africa: A Review’, ‘Smallholder Farmers’ Adaptation Strategies to Changing Provisioning Ecosystem Services in the Sudan and Guinea Savannah Ecological Zones of Ghana’ and ‘Local Differentiation and Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Ghana’.

The conference promises to be an informative, interesting and worthwhile event covering a variety of relevant topics to see how Africa can move forward while adapting to the persisting effects of COVID-19, climate change and more.

The full event programme with relevant Zoom links to join each session can be found, here.

How are different groups affected by the changing land tenure systems in Ghana’s oil palm growing districts?

Written by: Esther Darku and Alexander Nii Adjei Sowah

Oil palm is Ghana’s second most important cash crop after cocoa, and the sector is an important contributor to the country’s economy. The production of cash crops in Ghana has largely been dominated by small-scale farmers in mostly rural areas since the 1800s. The high value placed on cash crops often leads to better livelihood outcomes for cash crop farmers. However, the ability to sustainably participate in oil palm cultivation depends on secure access to land. One of the major challenges of small-scale farming in Africa is the land tenure system that affects the ability of farmers to make long-term financial and technical/technological commitments that will help farmers fully maximise the economic potential of the land. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 72, which examines different land tenure arrangements and how different rules for land access affect different social groups.

To understand the changes in land acquisition practices in the oil palm production sector and how they have impacted small-scale farmers, qualitative research was conducted in 2019 to investigate the land tenure systems in five oil palm producing communities in Mporhor and Ahanta West Districts. Land access for smallholder farmers is critical for sustaining local economies and livelihoods. As a result, changes in prevailing land tenure arrangements can either improve livelihoods or exacerbate inequalities among different social groups.

Study findings

Three primary forms of land tenure systems were observed in the study areas. First, land is vested in chiefs, in which case land was considered stool[1] land and was allocated to residents (both indigenes and migrants) for farming purposes. Under this system, land was allocated to male household heads who, in turn, allocated portions to their spouses or children for farming.

The second type of land tenure system is land allocation through families. Here, family heads are vested with the control and administration of the land. In these cases, matriliny plays an important role in land re-distribution. This guarantees access to land for all members of the matrikin, or mother’s family, increasing women’s access to land. The access and control of land guaranteed through family lineage enables some women to transfer the use and control of land to their spouses for the establishment of plantations.

In the third case, individuals were able to acquire land through rent or a share cropping system. In a few instances, individuals also acquired and registered large tracts of land for farming on lease or full purchase agreements. This land eventually becomes the personal property of the individual and communal land ownership norms cease to apply.

Land access is differentiated based on gender, residency status (indigene versus migrant), and economic status. Ordinarily, all members of the lineage have access to use clan or family land, but patriarchal influences and other factors such as financial resources tilt the balance of ownership in terms of size of land to males. This stems from the intersection of gender, social, and cultural placement of women and access to financial resources to develop the land once they obtain the right to access and use it. Improved access, therefore, does not necessarily guarantee usage and control of the land.

Corporate land grabs

The increasing social and economic demand for land is changing access, use and control of land, even for individuals and families with hitherto secure tenure. The acquisition of large areas of land by big corporate players is leading to the dispossession of smallholders. These forms of dispossession pose a direct threat to the livelihoods of those who depend directly on the land for their food supply. The increasing commodification of land and rising incidence of corporate land grabs is compounding longstanding problems, such as unenforced regulations and lack of land use planning. Corporate land grabs not only disrupt existing land tenancy systems and land use arrangements, but also directly violate the land rights of indigenous people and local communities resulting in the loss of land as safety nets.

From social arrangements to cash payments

The growing monetisation of land tenancy arrangements have shifted the transactional currency of land use arrangements from social networks and connections to cash payments. Land transfer arrangements are increasingly being negotiated based on agreed cash payments. The increased reliance on cash payments is reshaping land tenancy arrangements with the emergence of conflicts due to dispossession and repossession. Smallholder farmers whose revenue streams and income are limited are thus forced off the land by farmers with the capacity to pay for the lease of land. The impact of such changes includes the gradual displacement of smallholder farmers from cash crop farming, and the disproportionate focus on the production of cash crops, which has food security implications.

[1] Stool in this context refers to the traditional or chieftaincy authority that exercises control over land.

Precarious prospects? Agricultural commercialisation and climate change in semi-arid Tanzania

Written by: Khamaldin Mutabazi, Lars Otto Naess and Gideon Boniface

Commercialisation has long been considered a path out of poverty for farmers across Africa, as elsewhere in the global South; it is also increasingly seen as a means to strengthen farmers’ resilience to climate change. A study carried out in the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, asked how farm-level decisions affect current, as well as future, resilience to climate change. Findings reinforce that farmers are vulnerable to climate change but also have tremendous capacity. However, to be able to adapt and thrive, farmers need to be supported globally, as well as in Tanzania, which provides clear messages ahead of the forthcoming COP26.

Agriculture matters a great deal in the negotiations ahead of COP26. Why? Because, as a prime victim of climate change, the sector is a leading emitter. However, when climate-smart, the sector also provides critical mitigation potential. But what are the prospects for climate-resilient agricultural commercialisation that would benefit poor African farmers, particularly those pursuing livelihoods in fragile semi-arid drylands? Such an overarching question is addressed in a recent APRA study conducted in three villages (Dominiki, Kidaru and Luono) in Singida Region of the central semi-arid Tanzania. The study applied a mixed methodology involving qualitative and techniques – the later entailing metric commercialisation and vulnerability indices. The full report is under review and will be available soon.

A recent study in Tanzania, conducted by the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) initiative, suggests that farmers are already changing strategies in response to climatic changes, and that there is scope to adapt and forge long-term resilience. At the same time, benefits to the poorest and most marginalised farmers, in particular, cannot be assumed; targeted efforts will need to be made to ensure that those who benefit are not those already better-off and better connected.

Semi-arid drylands are characterised by low and erratic rainfall coupled with high evapotranspiration – so tackling an uncertain climate is nothing new for farmers in these regions. However, recent climatic changes have led to new weather patterns that are increasingly overwhelming traditional dryland farming practices, thus re-shaping agro-enterprise mixes and farmers’ commercialisation choices.

In the face of climate change, dryland agrarian families are not in the same boat regarding commercialisation pathways and prospects. Many are marginalised due to having odds stacked against them in terms of resource access, political voice, and local market dynamics, amongst others.

Some key findings of the report include:

Climate change is affecting farmers now, creating new challenges but also opportunities. Dryland agrarian communities are facing changing climate and weather patterns with different impacts on crops and livestock. Extreme weather conditions, particularly seasonal droughts, prolonged dry spells, and sporadic floods, are increasingly overwhelming local capacity to adapt. Nevertheless, changing weather patterns, such as above-average rains, have created new possibilities for growing high-value water-demanding crops, such as paddy rice and horticulture.

Social differences underpin both the limits and the opportunities to survive and thrive. The challenges, as well as the ability to benefit from any new opportunities that arise, are significantly divided by social differences such as gender, wealth, and age. Resource-poor farmers, in particular female-headed households that tend to be socially discriminated against, are particularly at risk from climate shocks and stressors; in some cases, socio-economically constructed differences may reinforce or increase the inequalities in resource access that already exist. For example, rising demand for land – which was ideal for growing onions – was associated with increasing rents to an unaffordable level for resource-poor farmers.

New surges in pests and diseases create major problems. Farmers reported that devastating rises in pest and disease incidence, which seems to be intricately linked with climatic and environmental changes, is the biggest concern for them, undermining their crop production and commercialisation potential.

Hard choices and increased risk of food security. Farmers have been making choices of crops and livestock species considering resilience, food security and income-generating potential of such enterprises. As the majority of farmers depend on food purchases to smooth consumption, particularly during bad years, families deprived of livestock assets and those less engaged in producing commercial crops were vulnerable to food insecurity.

COVID-19 fallout. While COVID-19 did not have serious health impacts in rural areas, related disruptions of trading systems affected some farmers in terms of poor market access and lower producer prices of their agricultural commodities. Commodities associated with global export and distant value chains driven by urban demand, such as sesame and cattle, were highly affected by COVID-19-related trade disruptions.

Volatility of global commodity prices of dryland crops a source of risk. Resilient dryland export crops such as cotton offer a resilient and profitable commercialisation pathway to African farmers. However, instability of global prices of such agricultural commodities transmits production uncertainty and vulnerability among farmers. Study findings highlighted, for example, that farmers in Kidaru village abandoned cotton for more than a decade when producer prices collapsed and resumed its production only recently when prices improved.

Challenges are exacerbated by underdeveloped financial services. In Tanzania, rural microfinance services for smallholder farmers, including credit and insurance, are underdeveloped; hence limiting farmers’ capacity to finance and risk-proof farm investments.

Access to, and control over, productive assets can help ameliorate climate change effects. Different vulnerable social groups, such as women and youth, were found to commercialise when society and families were granted equitable access, ownership, and control of productive resources.

Semi-arid areas are politically marginalised and hence ‘below the radar’ of central government. In African countries where drylands coexist with humid potential areas, governments’ long-standing viewpoints on semi-arid drylands as ‘marginal’ has left such areas disproportionately deprived of public investments in infrastructure such as community water reservoirs, dryland irrigation facilities, better rural roads, and market centres, which are critical for resilient commercialisation. To address such inequality requires governments to deliberately target public investments and focus on smart dryland development policies.

As Tanzanian semi-arid drylands host the majority of poor communities that rely on dryland agriculture to survive, fostering resilient commercialisation is critical for the delivery of inclusive and sustainable development.

So, what to do in the development and political economy contexts? Based on these headline findings, the report makes a number of recommendations for Tanzanian policymakers and development partners to support inclusive, profitable and resilient agricultural commercialisation while building the adaptive capacities and resilience of vulnerable dryland farming communities in Tanzania. Key recommendations include:

  1. Deliberately expedite public investments in productive and market infrastructure to address development deficit as to unlock commercialisation potential and build resilience in the dryland farm-sector and the vulnerable agrarian communities that depend on it for their livelihoods.
  2. Improve rural micro-finance services, including tailored credit and insurance products, for smallholder farmers to support and risk-proof farm investments.
  3. Strengthen dryland-focused research and development, extension services, and crop protection to upgrade productivity and build resilience in dryland agriculture against climatic and non-climatic shocks, such as pandemics.
  4. Advance climate and weather science and information systems to inform local farming decisions under changing farming conditions.
  5. Promote delivery of a broader range of dryland crop varieties adapted to shifting weather patterns and seasonality – with commercialisation potential.
  6. Provide predictable, fairer, and equitable global trading systems of resilient dryland crops, which are critical for enhanced resilient of vulnerable African farmers.

Finally, yet importantly, a generalised takeaway message in the African context for COP26: There are clear policy imperatives, as well as justice implications of the above, not only for Tanzania but for the global climate negotiations. Farmers across Africa – and indeed globally – are increasingly having to tackle challenges not of their own making. These critical study findings highlight that governments have a key role to play in tackling structural and governance-related barriers that hinder the poorest and most marginalised farmers from being able to move towards climate-resilient commercialisation.

For the forthcoming COP 26 climate negotiations, the findings reinforce the need for African governments to live up to inclusive policy goals and investment obligations towards sustainable development futures and adaptation, as well as to target this support to measures that aid the most vulnerable social groups – ensuring no one and no place is left behind in a climate-resilient future.

APRA Research Note 5: Agricultural Commercialisation in South-Western Ghana

Written by: Louis Hodey and Fred Dzanku

The Agricultural Policy Research in Africa study in Ghana consists of three work streams. This report contains results of the analyses of Work Stream 1 (WS1) baseline and endline survey datasets for Ghana. Oil palm commercialisation arrangements and outcomes are the focus of WS1 in Ghana. Case studies have been carried out in two districts – Ahanta West and Mpohor – in Western Region. This report highlights the changes between 2017 and 2019 for five APRA indicators, including agricultural commercialisation (input and output), employment, poverty (income, subjective poverty and household asset ownership), food security and women empowerment.

APRA Working Paper 72: Land Tenure and Oil Palm Commercialisation

Written by: Esther Naa Dodua Darku and Alexander Nii Adjei Sowah

Oil palm is the second most important cash crop after cocoa, and the sector is an important contributor to the Ghanaian economy. The production of cash crops in Ghana has largely been dominated by small-scale farmers in mostly rural areas since the 1800s. The high value placed on cash crops often leads to better livelihood outcomes for cash crop farmers. However, the ability to sustainably participate in oil palm cultivation depends on secure access to land. One of the major challenges of small-scale farming in Africa is the land tenure system that affects the ability of farmers to make long-term financial and technical/technological commitments that will help farmers fully maximise the economic potential of the land. This paper examines different land tenure arrangements in five oil palm growing communities in south-western Ghana, and how different rules for land access affect different social groups. We focus specifically on the gendered aspects of access to land and their implications on equitable participation in the oil palm economy of these communities.

Lessons from Zimbabwe’s tobacco farmers for the COP26 climate change talks

Tafadzwa Ufumeli via GettyImages

Written by: Andrew Newsham, Toendepi Shonhe and Tsitsi Bvute

This blog was originally published on The Conversation. The findings presented and discussed here are from APRA Working Paper 64.

Zimbabwe is ranked in the top 20 countries in the world most affected by extreme weather between 2000 and 2019. Some regions in Zimbabwe experienced between three to six bad rainfall seasons between 2014 to 2019 alone. In a country where agriculture is so important, these impacts are acutely felt.

They also come against a background of a drying climate trend in Zimbabwe, observed since the 1980s. The rainy season has shortened by 30 days across much of the country, broken up by longer dry spells which last up to 20 consecutive days.

What’s happening in Zimbabwe holds important lessons for the global community ahead of the COP26 global climate change talks.

The first is that climate change, with other factors, is already putting lives and livelihoods around the world on the brink. Much focus has been on how small the window of opportunity is for global action – as if the world still had a couple more years before things really get bad.

In Zimbabwe, for some of the poorest farmers, growing a potentially lucrative cash crop like tobacco has already become unviable. For many, the crisis is now.

Second, heavily commercialised agriculture, especially livestock production, is amongst the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a bitter irony that it therefore contributes to the precarity of farmers, like those in Zimbabwe, who bear little or no responsibility for climate change. And yet agriculture has not historically been a high priority on COP agendas.

The research

These lessons are drawn from our research in Zimbabwe, conducted as part of of the Future Agricultures Consortium. The research documents the impact of climate change on farmers growing tobacco as a cash crop in the Mazowe district of Mashonaland Central Province, approximately 40km north of Harare, the capital city.

Due to high mortality rates of smoking, tobacco isn’t everyone’s choice of cash crop to promote. But it’s seen by some as a route out of poverty. A growing number of commentators view tobacco production as a kind of “success story” for the fast-track land reform programme which was announced in 2000.

Controversially, the programme expropriated 1.3m hectares of white-owned commercial farmland without compensation. The land was redistributed largely to residents of communal lands.

In the 1920s, 96% of the precolonial population were dispossessed of their land. Roughly 50% of the land, including all the best agricultural land, was given over to the 4% of the white settler population. Communal lands were the agriculturally marginal areas into which the black population was resettled.

The fast-track land reform programme established land leases for two types of plots. The first were plots of between 5 and 10 hectares intended for small scale black farmers aiming to start or increase commercial production. The second were plots of between 50 and 200 hectares for farmers who already had established commercial credentials.

Many of these recipients have taken up tobacco, such that production levels have almost recovered to above the pre-land reform levels, in particular owing to its take-up by small-and medium-scale farmers.

But climate impacts threaten the viability of tobacco production. Our key finding was that when rain-fed rather than irrigated, tobacco is one of the riskiest crops, even on land well-suited to growing it. This is both from a climate and a commercial perspective.

Predictably, the higher the level of access to irrigation and other resources, the better able farmers are to weather the impacts and reduce climate-related production risks. And beneficiaries of land reform in Mazowe do seem, to varying degrees, better able to adapt to the new climate realities. Access to better land seems to have been crucial to building an asset base, itself an important component of adaptive capacity.

Yet the risks are greatest among farmers predominantly in communal land, for whom the crop is already a marginal and precarious undertaking. These farmers are often amongst those most in need of the cash, assets and stability that tobacco can provide. The majority of communal land farmers in the area we worked in were, at the time, on food aid, experiencing the opposite of poverty reduction via income from tobacco.

Climate change and social injustice

Increasingly, farmers who don’t have access to irrigation and inputs are abandoning the crop. These are farmers who are often tied into contract farming arrangements which pay far below the market rate for tobacco produced. During the poor rains of the 2019 – 2020 season, many in our communal area field site found themselves dependent on food aid.

As we found through our research, these difficulties aren’t solely caused by climate change. Its effects coexist with an ongoing array of processes, including:

This last point links to the underlying dynamics fundamentally implicated in both climate change and social injustice. Zimbabwean farmers find themselves incorporated into global markets on adverse terms. This is because value is created, and capital accumulated higher up the tobacco value chain.

At the same time, the inputs provided for tobacco produced under contract farming no longer include fuel, such as gum trees and coal, for curing tobacco. This displacement of a production cost onto the farmer has led to tree cutting, and is implicated in larger patterns of deforestation.

It’s no coincidence that tobacco, as with much agricultural production, promotes unsustainable modes of commodification and consumption of nature. Markets continue to function as if the real costs of environmental change did not need to be priced in to agricultural produce, and the deeply inequitable distribution of revenues from global agricultural produce did not matter.

Implications for the negotiators

Against this background, the relatively low profile of agriculture at the global climate talks is hard to understand. But the implications from Zimbabwe for the climate change negotiators are clear.

First, if we are to see meaningful change, these underlying dynamics need to be a focus for the negotiations. Yet, in the run-up to COP26 it doesn’t appear that they are.

Second, if things don’t change, the people least responsible for climate change, in Zimbabwe and far beyond, will continue to be amongst those most exposed to and suffering from its accelerating intense impacts.

APRA Tanzania to host national feedback workshop

APRA Tanzania team at a previous media workshop

On Tuesday, 26 October 2021 at the Institute of Rural Development Planning in Dodoma, Tanzania, the APRA Tanzania team will be hosting a national feedback workshop. At this event, the team plans to share research findings and draw policy implications on how agricultural commercialisation can empower women, reduce poverty, and improve food and nutrition security in the region. The team will look to the way forward, identifying how their findings might impact the country’s agricultural sector moving into the future. The workshop will gather relevant stakeholders, government officials, researchers, journalists to discuss these pathways for improvement.

Following registration, and an official opening session, members of the APRA Tanzania team, including Aida Isinika, Devotha Mosha, John Jeckoniah, Ntengua Mdoe and Christopher Magomba will share two key presentations on Inclusive agricultural commercialisation: Policy lessons from rice in Mngeta, Kilombero and The role of sunflower for livelihood improvement in Iramba and Mkalama districts.

The presentations will pave way for guided group discussions and plenary sessions to draw and agree on emerging key policy lessons. The output of this workshop will contribute to institutionalisation of agricultural commercialisation for the benefit of famers who are stepping up, stepping out, hanging in or stepping down from agricultural commercialisation.

To learn more about the APRA Tanzania team’s research, read some of their recent blogs here:

Commercialisation of quality seeds could enhance rice yields in Tanzania

Written by: Aida Isinika

Research finds that the productivity of Tanzania’s rice sector could improve due to commercialisation of new varieties. This blog comes against a backdrop of studies, programmes, interventions, and activities by the public and private sectors which work towards commercialisation of rice, among other crops. To contribute to these efforts, the Rice Council of Tanzania (RCT), in collaboration with Rural Urban Development Initiatives and Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), organised a workshop to deliberate on strategies to accelerate commercialisation of new rice varieties which have been released for multiplication and dissemination.

This workshop, which was held between 7–8 June 2021 at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, brought together rice processors, traders, farmers, researchers, and agencies including Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) and Agricultural Seed Agency. This workshop is important for many reasons; firstly, although annual rice production has been increasing in Tanzania (which is a leading producer of rice in Africa), productivity remains low. Also, the country’s mean yield has doubled, increasing from about 1.1t/ha in 2008 to 2.2t/ha in 2018. Despite this increase, rice yield in Tanzania is still lower than the national potential, which is estimated to be 4t/ha under rain-fed production and up to 7 t/ha under irrigation. 

The opening session and presentations

The workshop was officially opened by the TOSCI director, and followed by presentations which paved way for a plenary discussion. The presentations highlighted the importance of rice as both an income and foreign exchange earner, as a source of employment and as an important food crop in Tanzania. The presentations also explained the role of improved seed in rice commercialisation and outlined the necessary actions to improve the quality and timely availability of rice seed to farmers. Another important point from this session is that the existing policy and legal framework, which allows the production of Quality Declared Seed (QDS), presents an opportunity to address the country’s rice seed shortage.

Contribution of APRA research

The workshop provided a platform for the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) to contribute to discussions on rice commercialisation in Tanzania. This knowledge arises from APRA studies which explain the benefits and limitations of commercialisation of rice among other value chains in Tanzania and the wider East Africa. APRA researchers certainly enriched the discussions by sharing their findings and experiences on rice commercialisation. 

Contribution of processors

Ruaha Milling Company Ltd., a medium-sized rice miller in Iringa region, shared its’ experience in contract farming, involving about 600 farmers with a reach of over 5,000 participants along the value chain. Terming this a “win-win situation”, the processors explained that through contract farming, the company has a guaranteed rice supply while the involved farmers are assured of markets at a stable price.

Challenges facing Tanzania’s rice sector

Tanzania’s rice sub-sector faces many challenges, including low use of technology, limited financing, inefficient milling processes, high costs of production, milling and storage, poor quality of rice, informal trading of processed and unprocessed rice, inadequate warehouse management techniques and low use of improved seed varieties. In fact, less than 20% of  rice farmers in Tanzania use improved seeds.


The workshop recommended the improvement of seed systems through continuous education and facilitation, ensuring that farmers plant the right seed varieties which are best-suited for various markets. Also, market expansion would enable farmers to sell rice seeds in their respective districts since there is little demand at the ward level, especially for medium-scale QDS seed producers.  The workshop further proposed certification to ensure that QDS farmers and other seed producers comply with the set standards. Finally, the private sector called upon the government to support them in addressing the challenges which arise from multiple fees and taxes.

Way forward

It was agreed that the setting up of district rice platforms, agro-dealers, further training of farmers on business skills, and coordination of QDS would enhance the quality of services given to farmers.  Millers should also enhance contract farming to increase the uptake of improved seed.

To contribute to the proposed recommendations, TARI plans to deliver climate-resilient rice seed varieties to address climate-related challenges, as these increase the risks and uncertainties encountered by producers, leading to economic instability, malnutrition, and food insecurity.

TARI is also working with stakeholders to ensure continuous breeding, wide dissemination, distribution, awareness and increased access to early maturity, water-efficient varieties which are adapted to saline conditions. It will also train farmers on crop management to increase productivity, and to ensure the production of varieties that meet the preferred market standards and demands. 

Finally, the workshop participants committed to strengthen District Forums under RCT. These would encourage technology transfer and be used to lobby and advocate for priorities of rice production such as QDS to upgrade the existing rice varieties. 

Biodiversity and climate change: why tree planting schemes may not be the answer

This article was written by Ian Scoones. An earlier version was posted on the PASTRES blog.

The first phase of the delayed Biodiversity Convention of the Parties (COP15) ended last week. There has been much talk of linking the twin crises of biodiversity and the climate. Grand plans for protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 have been hailed, and so-called ‘nature-based solutions’ are all the rage.

Massive tree planting schemes are being suggested, supported through significant new finance for ‘offset’ schemes to meet net zero obligations. The areas involved are huge. In 2011 the United Nations’ Bonn Challenge for example proposed that 350 million hectares of land would be ‘restored’ through tree planting by 2030. National governments and regional blocs too have massive plans for more trees, including notorious projects such as the Sahelian ‘Great Green Wall’. The AFR100 initiative, funded by multiple international donors including the World Bank, has committed to afforesting 100 million hectares in Africa over the coming decade. And not wanting to be outdone, the World Economic Forum is proposing the planting of a trillion trees.

Restoration myths

But is this always a good idea? Not necessarily. Many of the areas earmarked for tree planting are rangelands, areas of biodiverse rich grassland with scattered trees present such as in the savanna ecosystems that dominate southern Africa. Estimates vary but many millions of hectares of rangelands have been identified by the World Resources Institute (WRI) based in Washington DC and the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich for forest ‘restoration’. This assumes that these are ‘degraded’ forests in need of rehabilitation, rather than highly productive, biodiverse ecosystems that support many livestock and people. According to Joseph Veldman and colleagues such global restoration assessments may massively overestimate the climate mitigation of tree planting schemes.

In a 2019 paper, called ‘the trouble with trees’, William Bond (a prof from UCT) and colleagues showed how the areas identified for tree planting overlap with grassy biomes (including rangelands), wildlife species richness and livestock production. In fact, as Veldman and colleagues show, 40% of the WRI map – some 1 billion hectares – was focused on grassy biomes, highlighting an ‘inconvenient reality’ for large-scale restoration plans. As Catherine Parr and colleagues argue, tropical grassy biomes remain poorly understood and are under threat. In particular, ‘restoration’ through tree planting in such areas would have major negative consequences for wildlife, biodiversity and pastoral livelihoods.

Grassland ecosystems and carbon dynamics

These forest restoration assessments – and the resulting interventions such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative – result from a basic misunderstanding of rangeland ecosystems that exist across more than half the world’s surface. This is simply ‘bad science’. Rangelands are what Bond calls ‘open ecosystems’, variegated mixes of trees and grasslands existing together in savannahs and parklands. These are maintained by grazing, fire and human actions, and are some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.

Grasslands may also fix carbon more effectively than forests, although estimates vary wildly. In the geological past, the expansion of grasslands may have locked up so much carbon it resulted in a cooling of the atmosphere, precipitating an ice age. Grasslands have extensive root systems and high turnover with dead vegetation matter regularly incorporated into the soil, often assisted by grazers. Grasslands can be more reflective of solar radiation too compared to darker forests, and so may act to cool the earth. Yet carbon forestry schemes focus on the above-ground biomass, and tree biomass is much more visible and measurable than the poorly understood below-ground carbon dynamics among root networks and in the soil. In other words, these are not degraded lands in need of restoration to a ‘natural’ forest.

Forest obsessions

This obsession with closed forests has a long history, seeing grasslands or savannas as ‘degraded’ forests, and forests as the desirable protector of environments. Many of the current well-meaning attempts to advocate reforestation replicate colonial discourses, where foresters from northern climes influenced nascent forest departments across the world.

For example, the idea of the taux de boisement normal – the percentage of forest cover required by a ‘civilised’ nation – took hold in the French colonies from the 1800s, and since then tree planting has become part of what Diana Davis describes as a civilising mission to offset ‘desiccation’ and the assumed ravages of desert advance. Equally, the negative description of rangelands as ‘wastelands’ in India has framed attempts at environmental rehabilitation from the colonial era to today.

These basic misunderstandings of rangeland ecologies persist today, and are promoted by the likes of WRI along with multiple well-meaning projects and agencies through their advocacy of ‘forest restoration’. These efforts reinforced and in turn commoditised by the panoply of carbon forestry projects under schemes such as REDD+ and through investment projects available through growing voluntary carbon markets, seen as central to meeting ‘net-zero’ commitments globally.

The problems with tree planting in rangelands

So what are the problems with tree planting? Here are seven points (see also this excellent article by Forrest Fleischman and colleagues, as well as a recent paper on India and associated Twitter thread).

  • Most tree planting projects focus on exotic, fast-growing trees. These are assumed to produce the most carbon the quickest. But fast-growing trees planted in rangelands can quickly become a problem. Ask many across Africa about the issues they have with the invasive Prosopis juliflora, which was originally introduced by aid programmes to provide fuel wood. Exotic tree planting also eliminates existing grassland ecosystem biodiversity, which has emerged over millennia through the interactions of vegetation and herbivores.
  • Carbon projects require managed tree planting to claim carbon credits against an assumed degraded baseline. The easiest approach is the planting of large plantations. These are easy to manage and the carbon credits can quickly be calculated and cashed in. But plantations exclude people, livestock and wildlife and can seriously undermine plant biodiversity too. A rush to net zero through tree planting, Oxfam argues in a recent report, could have major implications for land rights and food security.
  • Rushed planting of trees in unsuitable environments can lead to large losses of planted trees. The incentives to earn a quick buck on carbon credits can result in huge damage. Areas are cleared, trees are planted and then they die, with no benefits to anyone. In the odd calculations of carbon credits, this may have resulted in ‘avoided deforestation’, but the consequence is often the laying waste of environments.
  • Tree planting in grasslands, aiming for a managed, stable forested area, runs counter the natural ecosystem dynamics of such areas. In tropical grassy biomes the amount of trees and grasslands fluctuate, with patches of each increasing and decreasing because of rainfall, fire and other factors. Imposing a regularised regime of management on such a setting, assuming baselines and calculating carbon gains makes no sense.
  • Tree planting schemes where people and animals are excluded can result in the massive build-up of flammable herbaceous material. Without regulated ‘cold burn’ fires, the consequences of forest fires can be devastating, as seen around the world in recent months. This can result in huge losses of carbon – exactly the opposite of the plan.
  • Water cycles may be disrupted by tree planting schemes, as fast-growing trees need a lot of water to grow. By contrast, grasslands have high levels of infiltration and are important in maintaining hydrological systems. Carbon schemes however do not put a price on water, so trees win out.
  • The landscape value of tree plantations – serried rows of exotic trees – may be lower than that of long established grassland systems, where cultures of livestock keeping and wildlife use have created a lived in landscape. Rangelands may be anthropogenically created, but they are not necessarily degraded and in need of rehabilitation.

Enhancing dynamic ecologies: putting people first

Trees are natural elements of grassland landscapes and of course have many benefits for people and environments, providing shade, fruits, browse, leaf litter and so on. In some cases, new planting may be desirable, but more often encouraging regrowth of existing trees as part of variegated landscapes makes much more sense as a route to capturing and sequestering carbon to meet the climate challenge. As Susie Vetter explains:

“Tree planting should enhance and diversify local livelihoods, avoid the transformation of tropical grasslands and savannahs, promote landscape heterogeneity and biodiversity, and distinguish residual carbon stocks from those derived from reforestation and afforestation.”

Many current pronouncements tout massive tree planting schemes with huge targets for areas to be covered, linked often to major finance for ‘carbon offset’ initiatives to meet net-zero climate obligations. These are vigorously backed by powerful international conservation organisations in alliance with big business, sometimes the worst fossil fuel polluters themselves. But we should be sceptical. So-called ‘nature-based solutions’ need to involve people first, otherwise they will fail; tree planting is of course a social and political issue.

Moving up, or out? The political economy of agricultural value chains and commercialisation in Africa

Written by: Blessings Chinsinga and Lars Otto Naess

Some initial – and selective – reflections on 11 case studies of agricultural value chains and commercialisation across sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate that the policy choices to promote a value chain depend, to a large extent, on its importance to the most powerful. This includes the ability of a value chain to generate, accumulate and distribute resources. The case studies thus give insights into the various ways in which politics play a role in facilitating or hindering the development of the value chain. This blog explores the findings of these papers.


The starting point for these studies, that were carried out as part of APRA over 2020-21 in six countries, was the (perceived) political importance of a crop in the country’s political settlement. The six countries and their respective value chains included: Ethiopia (rice), Ghana (oil palm and cocoa), Malawi (groundnuts), Nigeria (maize, cocoa and rice), Tanzania (rice and sunflower) and Zimbabwe (tobacco and maize). Using a political economy framework, we asked the following questions: What and who are the drivers and obstacles to commercialisation? What and who decides the particular commercialisation pathways? And, ultimately, who wins and who loses? In the following, we outline examples from contexts where governments were grappling with commercialisation challenges, amidst challenges brought on by climate change, as well as the fallout from the still unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

The country contexts are very varied, comprising a mix of coastal and landlocked settings, as well as a combination of crops for domestic and export markets. Of the 11 value chains studied, some were mainly for the domestic markets (e.g. rice in Ethiopia), others are major export crops (e.g. cocoa in Ghana and Nigeria; palm oil in Ghana; and tobacco in Zimbabwe). In between, there are a wide range of more hybrid value chains providing for domestic and export markets. Key external factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, as well as responses to them, have had wide reaching consequences, many of which are still unfolding.

COVID-19, climate change and commercialisation

Some of the value chains are thriving, others are struggling. Yet others have been through a long decline with a recent promising resurgence due to a combination of policy intervention and exclusively contingent factors, such as the emergence of lucrative cross-border informal markets. Climate change represents a looming challenge and threat to many value chains, most visibly to their productivity potential, affecting mainly impoverished smallholder farmers who can ill afford mitigation measures such as crop diversification, use of improved seed that are disease and drought tolerant, and irrigated farming using either modern equipment or simply access to rich and fertile wetlands.

COVID-19 has added further obstacles. For example, the challenges in the cocoa sector in Ghana were exacerbated by the pandemic through closure of land borders affecting migrant labour supply from neighbouring countries, and farmers’ access to (imported) inputs. The border closure also made it difficult to transport goods to other African countries. For rice in Ethiopia, the lockdown and fear of the pandemic were major challenges, while the increasing demand for food benefited producers and processors. The cocoa value chain has been affected by the shrinking export market in Europe and other importing countries. Movement restrictions have, in many cases, meant that farmers are not present throughout the marketing and auction processes; the end result has been higher consumer prices and increased producer profits, with some farmers engaging in speculative activities to further enhance profits.

Winners and losers

The studies demonstrate that different actors’ engagements in various processes within the value chains culminate in some winning and others losing. One of the key issues relates to the administration of subsidies: from Ghana to Zimbabwe, the story of subsidies show how they are often justified as a means to boost agricultural production by specifically targeting impoverished smallholder farmers, while ending up being captured by the strategically, politically-connected elite – such as traditional leaders, local level bureaucrats and business people – for their own gains. Policies that do not offer these opportunities may be downplayed or ignored. Winners or losers result from how various policy instruments are implemented, such as whether and how subsidies are deployed, and the underlying dynamics of elite capture, patronage and corruption. These processes culminate in social differentiation, especially among smallholder farmers, which presents obstacles for the value chains to realise their full potential.

For example, in Nigeria’s maize value chains, input subsidies focusing on fertiliser and seed have been captured by the private sector and are poorly targeted and implemented. High demand for maize for food and feed have attracted unfair politician involvement to extract supernormal profits; regulation of maize imports through export bans and the associated informal cross border trade to the benefit of the politically connected and influential individuals; and each regime prioritises the implementation of a new set of policies that promote rent extraction at the expense of continuity that even the policies of their predecessors were generally working. All these culminate in marked social differentiation that manifest heavily between men and women, especially in terms of their ability to cultivate maize on a profitable scale and benefit from informal cross border trade, which is more lucrative than the local maize trade.

In Ghana’s oil palm value chain, inadequate supporting infrastructure, weak marketing systems, and poor industry-wide coordination continue to frustrate development of the value chain’s full potential. This is particularly the case because political leaders prefer distribution of targeted goods to smallholders because of its potential electoral payoffs.

In the case of Malawi, the groundnut value chain has experienced notable recovery in terms of productivity, but remains primarily informal and struggles to re-enter the lucrative and formal global export markets. Progress towards the possibility of establishing structured markets has stalled completely, perhaps because the results show that some policymakers are profiting from the impasse, with some exporting their share of crops through shady deals. This, perhaps, explains why the condemnation of the informal groundnut export trade, coordinated and dominated by the Burundians, does not translate into any concrete policy action to dismantle or regulate it.

In Tanzania’s sunflower value chain, its commercialisation increased cropping area, taking over some traditional grazing land, such that land for livestock has become very scarce in many villages. This has led to changes in the institutional framework for managing livestock, forcing large owners to redistribute their herds to poorer neighbours as caretakers. This, in turn, has meant that poorer households and women, especially female-headed households, are less able to benefit from sunflower commercialisation themselves. 

Where next?

These value chain studies clearly demonstrate that the nature of a country’s political settlement matters in either facilitating or hindering a value chain’s prospects for developing its full potential. The more a value chain is amenable to profitable rent extraction, the more likely it will be captured by key elites for personal and political gains. Value chains that are largely export orientated are more susceptible to this sort of capture than those that are domestically orientated, except for cases where they are very important for national subsistence.

These studies further show that domestic political, economic and social forces are far more important than external forces in determining a value chain’s prospects. However, the role of external forces remains important, especially when it comes to policies. But these studies highlight that domestic actors – notably politicians and policymakers – are extremely adept at appropriating policies and implementing them in a way that services, primarily, their own personal interests. The case of Tanzania (rice) shows how this might affect tariff policy implementation, often to benefit politically connected and influential individuals.

A further key finding of these studies is that emerging issues, particularly climate change and COVID-19, are exerting added challenges to commercialisation efforts. COVID-19 is, in many ways, a double-edged sword: it has created opportunities for some, as well as daunting challenges for others. The poignant fact is that its adverse effects are disproportionately affecting the poor and marginalised sections of the population, with the majority moving in and out of poverty depending on the severity of the impact. In all, the combined negative consequences of elite capture of the value chains in various forms, climate change and COVID-19, have deepened and broadened social differentiation across all six countries. The main victims are the poor smallholder farmers, particularly youth and women, which makes the aim of inclusive agricultural commercialisation almost impossible to realise.

To learn more about these political economy papers, read the blogs written by their authors here:

Ethiopia (rice), Ghana (oil palm and cocoa), Malawi (groundnuts), Nigeria (maizecocoa and rice), Tanzania (rice and sunflower) and Zimbabwe (tobacco and maize). 

Photo credit: ICARDA

APRA Working Paper 71: The Drivers of Medium-Scale Farms and the Emerging Synergies and Contradictions Among Socially-Differentiated Farmers in Northern Ghana

Written by: Joseph Yaro, Ibrahim Wahab, Gloria Afful-Mensah and Michael Ben Awenam

Since the turn of the century, agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa has been undergoing rapid transformation. Ghana is experiencing an agrarian revolution with increasing farmland sizes, increased mechanisation of production and external input usage, and high levels of commercialisation. In this paper we show the growth of farm sizes, the major drivers of increasing farm sizes, and emerging relations between different scales of farmers. The paper discusses the synergies and contradictions emerging from the processes of agricultural commercialisation in the context of rising farmland sizes and the implications for different social groups.

APRA Working Paper 70: The Rise of Medium-Scale Farms in the Northern Savannah of Ghana: Farmland Invasion or an Inclusive Commercialised Agricultural Revolution?

Written by: Joseph Yaro, Ibrahim Wahab, Gloria Afful-Mensah and Michael Ben Awenam

Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing rapid transformation involving major changes in farmland ownership and farm scales from small to medium farms, with the widespread use of mechanisation and agro-inputs. Generally, households are increasing their farm sizes while others are dropping out of agriculture as the non-farm economy grows in both rural and urban areas. This study examined the changes in farmland sizes in two districts in the north of Ghana where agricultural extensification is still possible. Specifically, the study addressed the questions of the historical agrarian context; the magnitude and character of farm structure changes; the emerging spatial manifestation of farms; and the use of factors of production among the emerging socially differentiated farmers.

Why are farmer-based organisations so weak in southwestern Ghana’s oil palm growing communities?

Written by: Dorothy Takyiakwaa, Kofi Takyi Asante, and Prince Selorm Tetteh

Oil palm, the second most important industrial crop in Ghana, holds the potential to improve farmers’ livelihoods and alleviate rural poverty. It is a quintessentially commercialised crop, being cultivated for sale in local and foreign markets as well as industrial processing. However, despite the potential benefits of agricultural commercialisation, smallholder farmers still tend to be poor. A recent study, the findings of which are presented in APRA Working Paper 68, looked to understand why this is the case. This blog reflects on the findings of this paper and builds on previous research presented in APRA blog, ‘Collective Action within Poor Farming Communities in Western Ghana’.

The current study

In a qualitative study undertaken in 2019 in five oil palm growing communities in Ghana’s Western Region, we attempted to investigate whether engaging in collective action could enable vulnerable smallholder farmers to engage more effectively in commercialisation, and thus access a pathway out of poverty. There is a widespread expectation that farmers who lack the capacity to independently respond to the risks of commercialisation could still benefit through forming and maintaining social networks, for example by participating in collective action schemes such as farmer-based organisations (FBOs). This assumption is rooted in the fact that social networks and collective action constitute an opportunity to overcome the constraints that their individual resources would be insufficient for.

However, in all five study communities, we found FBOs to be either weak or non-existent. Moreover, collective action schemes were not always an option for the poorest farmers. We found that whereas FBOs can serve as conduits of important market information and can help farmers to access input and output markets, as well as training and other services, they were either weak or non-existent in the study communities. This situation is partially accounted for by the inability of poorer farmers to meet their financial obligations to their associations, as well as mistrust stemming from a history of unaccountable leadership within these organisations.

The vicious cycle of vulnerability

Poor farmers’ lack of financial autonomy undermines their ability to generate or nurture trust, which is a key requirement for social networks and collective action. Thus, these vulnerable farmers are unable to bear the ‘burden of reciprocity’ because they lack the resources necessary to participate in the kinds of reciprocity that enable collective action. Often, this results in a vicious circle in which wealth disparities widen in a community because the material prerequisites for participating in livelihood-enhancing collective schemes end up excluding exactly those who need such schemes the most. Under these circumstances, cooperation tends to be limited to small groups of better-off farmers, among whom it is easier to ensure compliance.

This situation is particularly disadvantageous for poorer farmers because it hinders their ability to benefit from the advantages of agricultural commercialisation. Such benefits include micro-level improvements, such as access to improved inputs, increased incomes, and a pathway out of poverty, and macro-level advantages, such as transformation at the community level. The poorer farmers’ lack of economic agency predisposes them to short-term economic decisions, which in turn undermine their ability to engage in long-term cooperative activities. Despite the fact that these vulnerable farmers are in the greatest need of such support, and would likely benefit from it the most, their inability to enter into collective action resulting from mistrust, financial constraints, etc., means they are left behind in the commercialisation process and thus remain in poverty.

Monocrop or diversified enterprise portfolio? Lessons for inclusive commercialisation from Singida Region, Tanzania

Written by: Aida Isinika and Ntengua Mdoe

Many people have attributed the Singida Region in Tanzania’s rapid development during the last twenty years to the evolution of the sunflower value chain. The successes of this value chain’ development include increased oilseed production, expanding processing capacity and declining rural poverty. Singida Town, the headquarters of Singida Region, has transformed from a small sleepy town into a vibrant city, and many neighbouring villages, such as Iguguno, have been transformed into semi-urban centres as a result of agrarian accumulation from surrounding villages. However, a focused analysis of quantitative data and qualitative narratives reveal there is more to the development of Singida Region than sunflower. This blog highlights the findings of APRA Working Paper 67, which show that the combined effect of accumulation from sunflower and other enterprises, including livestock, account for the observed improvement in livelihoods, contributing to household economic diversity that is projected to be more inclusive and sustainable.

Sunflower was introduced in Tanzania during colonial times and was found to grow in almost all parts of the country. The crop is particularly adapted to the dry weather conditions found in the central corridor regions of Dodoma, Morogoro, Shinyanga, Singida and Tabora. As a subsistence crop, the seed was crushed by women using a mortar and pestle to make powder for enriching sauce and vegetables.

Sunflowers in Singida

In Singida Region, serious sunflower commercialisation was observed after 1990 due to combined efforts by the government and development partners to promote and support the crop for poverty reduction.  The pace of sunflower commercialisation accelerated after the year 2000, driven by several underlying factors, including area expansion and productivity improvement. Rising productivity and commercialisation are attributed to increased supply of higher yielding improved seed, improved processing technology, as electricity spread to many urban centres and some rural areas, improved marketing, as rural roads and communication technology improved, and further institutional changes. The combined effect of these changes drove farmers to opt for diversified enterprises rather than exclusively focusing on sunflower or other monoculture alternatives.

Complementarity and competition

Income from sunflower production has financed various household enterprises, including onions and chickpeas. Sunflower commercialisation has, in turn, benefitted from the same enterprises. Meanwhile, expanding crop production and rising livestock numbers have increased competition for land, turning enterprise complementarity to competition. Farmers adapted by switching from one enterprise/commodity to another depending on relative factors and products’ prices, such that when the price of maize rose after exports to neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi were allowed, maize is now a popular crop in this marginal region. There is also strong complementarity and competition between sunflower production and agro-pastoralism, which is prominent in Singida Region. Manure from livestock improves crop productivity while wealth accumulated from crop production is stored by acquiring livestock.

Animal-drawn technology at work

As livestock numbers increased while the area under crops expanded, complementarity turned into competition, forcing owners of large livestock herds to either migrate or distribute their herd to caretakers. This change has enabled care takers to benefit from consuming milk, thereby improving their family’s nutrition. They also use manure and animal-drawn technology services of the livestock they handle. Some of the caretakers have acquired their own livestock, as their income rose, hence stepping up from destitution to higher wealth ranks within their communities.

Lessons learned

In addition to caretakers, there is a general consensus in Singida Region that most people have benefitted from the economic transformation stimulated by sunflower commercialisation during its initial years between 2000 and 2010, followed by enterprise diversification after 2010. However, the benefits have not been equitable across all categories of farmers. The influence of women in controlling post-harvest activities and marketing of sunflower has declined as men assumed greater control of post-harvest activities. Moreover, the customary practice of nsoza, which requires husbands to provide land to wives for their exclusive use, is under threat as the rising divorce rate undermines trust within marriages.

Consequently, livelihood outcomes and impacts show social difference as some farmers stepped up, others stagnated, yet others stepped down into lower wealth ranks depending on their resources’ endowment. Female-headed households experienced a greater decline than male-headed households. Households that stepped down have also been associated with social vices such as excessive drinking, laziness and disharmony between husband and wife on how proceeds from farming and other family enterprises are utilised. These findings, therefore, provide compelling arguments to support a diversified portfolio of livelihood options, which is more inclusive, as sunflower remains an important livelihood option. In addition, there is a clear need for improved community norms to address these negative social vices.

APRA Working Paper 69: Politics, Power and Social Differentiation in African Agricultural Value Chains: The Effects of COVID-19

Written by: Imogen Bellwood-Howard and Helen Dancer

Since the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s, policymaking at a national and continental level has increasingly turned to agricultural commercialisation as the foundation for Africa’s long-term nutrition and food security. However, socio-economic inequalities, land tenure and food insecurity, as well as livelihood and income precarities remain widespread challenges. The effects of shocks, such as COVID-19, have overlaid emergent and entrenched patterns of social differentiation that shape access to resources, markets, and other opportunities for those involved in commercial agriculture. This paper considered the impacts of COVID-19 on value chains in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, to ask: 1) What can political settlements analyses tell us about agricultural value chains and responses to COVID-19 in the countries studied? 2) How are structures and power relations throughout the value chains and actors’ responses to COVID-19 related to social differentiation in the context of African agriculture?

APRA Working Paper 68: Explaining the Weakness of Associational Life in Oil Palm Growing Communities in Southwestern Ghana

Written by: Dorothy Takyiakwaa, Prince Selorm Kodzo Tetteh and Kofi Takyi Asante

As the second most important industrial crop in Ghana, oil palm holds the potential of improving farmers’ livelihoods and alleviating rural poverty. For smallholder farmers, collective action through farmer-based organisations (FBOs) could provide a pathway to inclusive participation in agricultural commercialisation. There is ample evidence in the literature that collective action can help smallholders gain access to credit, improved inputs, or even networks of social support. Thus, collective action is widely recognised as a viable pathway out of poverty for the agrarian poor. However, our findings show that FBOs were either weak or non-existent. Indeed, we find that economic relations between farmers tend to be more individualised than one would expect to find in rural communities. This paper presents these findings, and explores why this is the case.

APRA Working Paper 67: Sunflower Commercialisation in Singida Region: Pathways for Livelihood Improvement

Written by: Aida Isinika, John Jeckoniah, Ntengua Mdoe and Kizito Mwajombe

Sunflower commercialisation in Singida Region, Tanzania has been successful. The successes include increased oilseed production, expanding processing capacity and declining rural poverty. Policies and efforts by development agents to promote sunflower commercialisation have increased the number of actors and service providers. Accumulation from sunflower and other enterprises, including livestock, have not only improved livelihoods, but also contributed to household economic diversity. This paper examines the interactions between activities involved in sunflower production and other livelihood strategies. For example, the paper examines local dynamics in policy and business contexts that have shaped livelihood options available and people’s choices of which option they undertake, and the corresponding outcomes, and reasons for such commercialisation trajectories. The study aims to inform local, regional, and national strategies, to pursue more inclusive and sustainable agriculture development, and widen options and pathways for men and women in Mkalama and Iramba districts of Singida Region.

The politics of control in Zimbabwe’s COVID times

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

The COVID-19 situation in Zimbabwe has improved since our last report, with infection rates and deaths declining in all areas. The alert level has been reduced to Level 2, with restrictions relaxed. At the same time, the vaccination drive has continued apace, with the government now mandating all civil servants to take a shot. So far just over 20 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine – mostly from China – although there are big variations across locations and age groups.

The period of Level 4 lockdown during the most recent wave has taken its toll. During this period, lasting up to 7th September, many businesses closed and most public institutions, including schools and colleges, were shut. This had a big effect on the local economy and many suffered badly. This included farmers across our sites, who complained bitterly that schools, colleges and other businesses they supplied food to were slow to open up after the shift to Level 2. This particularly affected horticulture farmers in Chatsworth and Wondedzo who rely on vegetable sales for livelihoods at this time of year, with large amounts of produce rotting.

COVID controversies

Controversies around COVID-19 continue to be central to discussions across our sites. COVID has become a symbol of control, a centre of power struggles and local politics; much more than just a disease. This has been especially evident around the vigorous vaccine campaign that the state has led.

Many, particularly younger people, still dismiss the disease: “It’s just a strong ‘flu”, one commented. “We have our own remedies for it, we don’t need the vaccines”. The view that COVID is being used by the state to control people is widespread. A number of younger informants observed that the vaccines may be used by the government, in alliance with foreign powers, to control the population, making people infertile. While conspiracy theories can be dismissed, their existence must be taken seriously as they reflect the politics of COVID times and the deep lack of trust many, perhaps especially younger people, have in authority.

Geopolitics comes into it too. “Why is this government accepting vaccines from unfriendly states like the US when they impose sanctions on us…. It seems very fishy”, one informant observed.  Others argue that it’s odd to get a free vaccine from China when health centres have no other drugs “not even paracetamol, no basic drugs, no ambulances, yet these are all free and supplied by the government. We smell a rat… there is something not right…. What deals are being made about our future?” “It’s all about making money and controlling people”, one young person commented, “COVID is destroying our lives and economies”.

Trust and the politics of control

All sorts of theories are debated, but the common theme is the little trust in the state and its solutions. Many see politicians capitalising on the COVID moment, recognising that elections are just around the corner. Other local leaders are using the requirement of the state to vaccinate to control their populations, with chiefs and headmen threatening the withdrawal of food aid if people don’t get vaccinated. Vendors wanting to sell in local bakosi markets have to be vaccinated in some of our sites, again giving more powers to local leaders. Local officials keep lists of those vaccinated and not, creating new forms of local surveillance.  Government departments have until 15 October to get their staff vaccinated, otherwise they must go on ‘unpaid leave’ until they do. All our team who work in the agricultural extension service have got vaccinated, for example.   

Others resist the state vaccination efforts completely. For example, the Vapostori church followers refuse to take them. They say that COVID like other diseases is just punishment from God. It should not be resisted, and any requirement to stop praying in large groups should be resisted lest the Almighty is angered. God will answer and find a solution, they argue. Other churches, such as the Dutch Reformed, Roman Catholic and others, urge their followers to get vaccinated.

Among traditional religious leaders, such as the svikiro spirit mediums, there are a variety of opinions across our sites. Some argue that COVID reflects the anger of the ancestors for not following local customs and rules. They promote traditional practices for curing and healing, and some herbalists have joined others in prescribing herbal remedies for teas/infusions, gargling and steaming. The massive growth in demand for local treatments that arose especially during the most recent deadly wave has reinforced the power of herbalists and traditional healers within local communities.

Recourse to ‘tradition’ and the rejection of modern ways, around food in particular, is a common refrain. The argument that foods made from rukwezamhunga (finger and pearl millet) and other traditional products give strength and help people resist the disease has been much repeated. This has strengthened the hand of traditional healers, mediums and some local leaders over their ‘modern’ replacements in local power struggles in a number of our sites.

There is a gender, generational and locational divide too. Women are getting vaccinated far more than men, according to those working in the local clinics across our sites. Older people too are much more likely to get vaccinated than the youth, as they have seen old people get sick and die. Parents complain that they cannot persuade their children to get vaccinated and follow the regulations on distancing, mask wearing and so on. Finally, those in town are more likely to sign up as they too have seen the effects of the disease in recent waves – some even travelling to rural homes to get their shots as there is more availability of vaccine.

Controlling daily life

COVID times have created many tensions centred on the control over daily life. Tensions play out between the state and normal people; across generations, between youth and older people; within families, and between spouses; among colleagues who are civil servants; between church followers of different denominations, within villages and even within families; between the living and the spirit world; and between local leaders and their followers within rural areas. All these tensions are refracted through local politics.

While vaccination has often been the central, immediate focus, these tensions are therefore about much more; a window on contemporary rural society in Zimbabwe. These disputes are about the politics of control, over defining freedoms and limits and the role of the state and other authorities in relation to citizens. They are about faith and belief, interpretations of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ and the trust in state authority and science. And they are about wider politics around which foreign powers can be trusted with people’s health and well-being.

Holistic adoption of System of Rice Intensification can increase yields: A case of Mngeta, Kilombero District, Tanzania

Written by: Devotha B. Mosha, Amrita Saha, Gilead Mlay, Colin Poulton and John Jeckonia

This blog highlights the findings of APRA Working Paper 66, which discusses the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) interventions and their potential effects on paddy yield and commercialisation in Kilombero district, Tanzania. The study compared the adoption of SRI interventions and paddy productivity for trained and non-trained farmers, and compared these attributes for farmers who belonged to SRI associations and those who did not. The study evaluated SRI practices in terms of rice yields.

SRI interventions in Mngeta, Kilombero District, Tanzania

For over a decade, there was an assumption that promotion of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a sustainable agricultural innovation that aims to increase yields and reduce costs of production, would address rice shortage, food insecurity and poverty for farming households. More and more, SRI is less adopted and those who implement the policy modify it to suit them, consequently creating intended and unintended results on productivity and commercialisation among households in Kilombero district. This calls for alternative policy actions.

SRI in Mngeta division is linked to Kilombero Plantations Limited (KPL) in Mngeta division. Most SRI farmers in Kilombero Valley do not practice water management, but they use inorganic fertilisers and herbicides which is not a typical principle of SRI. These differences have led SRI in Kilombero to be branded as modified-SRI (MSRI) to include the application of inorganic fertiliser and herbicide under rain-fed conditions.

However, MSRI has posed several challenges, such as crop loss due to water logging, loss of soil fertility due to leaching, reduced supply of water for downstream water users, and increased cost of production, all of which are contrary to SRI’s goals. Consequently, the distinction between SRI and non-SRI farmers in Kilombero district is not clear and it is difficult to tell the extent to which various elements of SRI are combined, and their influence on rice yields and commercialisation levels.

Varying adoption rates of SRI

Globally, SRI technology involves several practices which are promoted as a package. SRI was introduced in Kilombero district in 2009 by KPL. This study revealed that SRI has had varying rates of adoption.

Trained adopters had higher adoption rates (about 57 per cent) than non-trained adopters, and SRI practices adopted at plot levels varied among SRI adopters and non-adopters. The study found that plots with and those without SRI practices had different paddy yields. For instance, plots which applied a combination of early and regular weeding had higher yields than plots which did not practice SRI, and plots which raised seedlings in a nursery, weeded early and regularly and applied fertilizer had even higher yields.

Although most paddy plots used herbicides, SRI plots used more herbicides than non-SRI plots.

Overall, many SRI-trained farmers had higher rice yields/productivity, which increased levels of commercialisation.


Even though KPL promoted several practices as part of the SRI programme, their adoption was not holistic. Most farmers chose one SRI practice from a list of practices, such as raising seeds in a nursery, planting in rows, early and regular weeding. Moreover, plots with SRI practices had higher yields than plots without SRI practices and plots with a combination of two or more SRI practices yielded even more.

Further, farmers who were trained on SRI influenced farmers who were not trained. This influence is important for the sustainability of SRI practices, and it is likely that more farmers will adopt and benefit from rice commercialisation. For farmers to commercialise and get higher yields, they should adopt a more holistic SRI package.

In conclusion, SRI practices can increase paddy yields and rice commercialisation levels, and subsequently increase incomes for farming households. However, low adoption of SRI practices can be attributed to perceived high cost of inputs such as improved seeds and labour-intensive practices, which is a challenge with the modified SRI.

Does livestock enhance or reduce crop commercialisation? A case of Singida in Central Tanzania

Written by: Ntengua Mdoe, Aida Isinika, Gilead Mlay, Gideon Boniface and Christopher Magomba

Livestock is an important component of mixed crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region in Tanzania, contributing to household income, and reducing poverty in the region. The use of ox-plough to perform farm operations, such as ploughing, and the application of livestock manure are just some ways in which livestock can enhance crop commercialisation. However, livestock production can also reduce the need to expand crop production if livestock earns a farmer higher income, hence inhibiting crop commercialisation in mixed crop-livestock farming systems. This blog explains the differences in commercialisation and poverty levels of different farmer categories, as found in APRA Working Paper 65.  

Study findings

The use of ox-plough, livestock manure and other productivity enhancing inputs

The study found that the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and other productivity enhancing inputs varies across different farmer categories. In addition, livestock-keeping households, male-headed households and medium-scale farmers used ox-plough and livestock manure more than households which did not keep livestock, female-headed households and small-scale farmers. The study also found that the use of ox-plough and livestock manure enhanced crop commercialisation, meaning that those households that did engage in the use of livestock inputs (namely, livestock keeping households, male headed households, and medium scale farmers) benefitted more from this increased commercialisation and its contribution to poverty reduction than their non-livestock-keeping, female-headed, small-scale counterparts.

Meanwhile, households which did not keep livestock used more inputs such as seeds, inorganic fertiliser and pesticides than that of livestock-keeping households. As was the case of ox-plough and livestock manure, more male-headed households used increased amounts of inputs than female-headed households and small-scale farmers.

Contribution of livestock to household income

The study found that besides the provision of oxen ploughing services and manure, livestock accounts for approximately 21% of total household income, which is approximately half of the amount of income that crops earn.

Conclusion and recommendations

The study shows that livestock ownership has enhanced crop commercialisation. This enhancement arose from the provision of oxen ploughing services and livestock manure, which improved soil fertility, consequently improving crop production. In this regard, the study recommends the promotion of a complementary relationship between crops and livestock farming systems in Singida. This can be achieved by promoting the use of manure to improve soil fertility, the use of animal power for land preparation, weeding, and transportation and the use of crop residues as livestock feed.

APRA Working Paper 66: Yield and Commercialisation Effects of SRI Interventions in Mngeta, Kilombero District, Tanzania

Written by: Devotha B. Mosha, Gilead Mlay, Colin Poulton and Amrita Saha

This paper discusses System of Rice Intensification (SRI) interventions and its potential effects on paddy yield and commercialisation in Mngeta division, Kilombero district in Morogoro region, Tanzania. SRI is an innovative agroecological methodology that aims to improve yields and farmers’ profits by creating the most suitable environment for the rice plant to grow. It comprises the precise set of cultivation practices specifically required for careful management of biophysical needs of the rice plant for producing high yields. To assess the effects, we compare between trained and non-trained farmers, as well as between farmers who are members of SRI associations and non-SRI members, on aspects of adoption of SRI interventions, paddy productivity and yields. In turn, the effects of SRI is evaluated in terms of its influence on rice yield per hectare and commercialisation at household level.

APRA Working Paper 65: Livestock, Crop Commercialisation and Poverty Reduction Among Rural Households in the Singida Region, Tanzania

Written by: Ntengua Mdoe, Gilead Mlay, Gideon Boniface, Aida Isinika and Christopher Magomba

Livestock is an important component of mixed crop-livestock farming systems in the Singida Region in Tanzania, directly or indirectly contributing to household income, food security and poverty reduction among rural people in the region. This paper examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialisation and farmers’ livelihoods in the region. The complementarity between crops and livestock in the farming systems of Singida needs to be recognised, enhanced and utilised not only by farmers and livestock keepers, but also by local government authorities and development practitioners.

Challenging simplistic land degradation and restoration narratives in Zimbabwe

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

In the last blog, I reviewed the results of our land use analysis using a combination of Landsat satellite imagery, document/archival analysis and field interviews from Mvurwi area in northern Zimbabwe from 1984 to 2018, now out as an APRA Working Paper.

A number of themes emerged. The research showed how in this miombo savannah environment there were cyclical shifts in land use between woodland, grazing areas and arable fields depending on a set of intersecting factors. These including demographic pressure, but also included economic, social and political dimensions. Shifts occurred often quite dramatically at particular moments, when a confluence of factors combined. Such factors were often uncertain and contingent, with the result that linear, secular change in land use and the environment was not seen.

Instead, there were often cycles, a waxing and waning of different land use combinations, depending on the context. This was the case in the post-land reform period, where the land is dominated by a mix of smallholders and medium-scale farms. Today there is only one large estate remaining, contrasting with the pre-land reform period when the Mvurwi area was dominated by white-owned large-scale commercial farms.

There are some important wider implications that emerge from such an analysis that gets to grips with longitudinal environmental and land use change and its intersecting drivers. In the following sections, I identify four themes.

Non-linear, dynamic change

Unlike as is so often assumed, environmental change is non-linear and dynamic. This has important implications for how we understand ‘land degradation’, or ‘desertification’.

Degradation is often assumed to a be a negative shift from an assumed pristine (or wild) state. But what if this state doesn’t exist, and in dynamic ecologies there are more variations – whether from herbivory, fire or human intervention? Assessing degradation depends on defining an ideal state that is departed from, but the ideal may be something that is already transformed: like farmland or grazing areas – which expand and contract depending on a range of variables.

In this sense, the linear notion of degradation (and its equivalent, desertification) has little meaning in such variable environments.

Intersecting drivers

Environmental change is usually the result of intersecting drivers. As we saw in Mvurwi, change is not the consequence of a single, secular pressure, as in the Malthusian narrative so often imposed on environmental and land use debates.

Demographic factors intersect with economic, political, social and other dimensions too. And this means that change is not inexorably in one direction. There are key moments when changes happen – conjunctures when an array of factors combine, which are inevitably contingent and always uncertain.

Predicting environmental change is not an exact science, and the doomsday narratives that forecast environmental disaster may often be widely off the mark. Trees may increase, but also decline. It all depends on complex, intersecting and dynamic drivers of change, which have to be understood.

Beyond the closed forest obsession

Land use analysts have an obsession with closed forests. They are easy to see from space (large blocks of red on the satellite interpretations) and they fit the popular focus on deforestation as the major indicator of environmental damage.

But most forested areas are not closed forests (as in the Amazon for example), but open forests and woodlands, savannahs and parklands, where trees may dominate but are interspersed with different types of vegetation, including open grassland. This is the ‘natural’ landscape of much of Africa, although of course maintained over millennia by grazers, fire and human activity.

Classifying such landscapes is tricky on satellite images. Is it forest…or is it bush, or grassland or cropped land, or a mix? Trees are in all of these classificatory ‘types’ and often in significant numbers, but often are not spotted in the push to decide on a classification across the forest/not forest binary.

The sooner the grip of the standard, closed-forest image of ideal landscape gives way to a more variegated, patchy, complex understanding of temporally and spatially variable savannah ecosystems the better. We need more savannah ecologists and fewer foresters (or those obsessed with a particular type of forest) in this line of work.

Meaningless baselines in carbon assessments

The focus on ‘forests’ (or more particularly closed forests) has implications for how we assess baselines in environmental assessments for carbon markets, and increasingly popular approach to mitigating climate change through ‘offsetting’ and land ‘restoration’.

Gaining benefits from the carbon market through protecting forests to fix carbon assumes that there is a baseline of protected forest. Carbon premiums are then paid on this basis, paying out to protect the forest from damage that would otherwise occur. This all assumes that a closed forest is the ideal, and that protecting such areas (or when ‘degraded’ reafforesting through tree planting) will be beneficial.

But, in open ecosystems like savannahs, the dynamics of carbon sequestration are such that grasslands combined with woodland give the highest benefits, and the idea that a successional endpoint of a closed forest is somehow best is mistaken. The idea of a ‘baseline’, so central to carbon forestry schemes (like REDD+), simply doesn’t make sense, as we saw in studies in Hurungwe.

Again, it is the linear view of environmental change, the obsession with the idea of a closed forest and a lack of understanding of land use change dynamics that such schemes are premised on – and which a large and growing carbon market is defined by. These are shaky foundations for environmental protection, and it’s no wonder that so many such carbon forestry schemes don’t work despite the hype. 

Dispelling simplistic linear ideas of environmental change

All this is why the sort of fairly basic but cross-disciplinary perspective that we pursued in our study in Mvurwi, now published as an APRA Working Paper, is so important to dispel simplistic ideas about linear environmental change and usher in more sophisticated and appropriate measures for environmental protection and land use management for such dynamic settings.

APRA Working Paper 64: Commercial Tobacco Production and Climate Change Adaptation in Mazowe, Zimbabwe

Written by: Andrew Newsham, Toendepi Shonhe and Tsitsidzashe Bvute

There has been an increasingly well-documented, rapid rise in tobacco production over the last couple of decades in Mazowe, Zimbabwe, despite growing public health concerns about lung cancer and nicotine’s addictive capacities in the wealthier countries of the West – even affecting the South African market. This has been accompanied by a shift away from its production almost completely on large-scale farms towards predominantly small-scale farms. To date, less consideration has been given to the implications of climate change for tobacco production. Given the hopes that it can make a serious contribution to poverty reduction and food security, it is of increasing importance to understand these implications, to identify the most relevant and/or effective adaptation options and to assess the viability of their successful adoption. This paper presents a fine-grained, qualitative bottom-up analysis of the implications for commercial tobacco production of climate change impacts in Zimbabwe.

APRA features at the Second Scientific Conference held at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania

Written by: Aida Isinika and Ntengua Mdoe

The Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) participated in a scientific conference at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), Tanzania from 24th May–27th May 2021. Themed ‘Agricultural Technologies, Productivity and Market Competitiveness in Tanzania: Towards an Upper-Middle Income Economy’, the conference provided a platform for scholars to interact and exchange knowledge on the application of science, innovation, and technology in the country’s socio-economic transformation. This blog highlights APRA Tanzania researchers’ contributions to the conference.

The Second Scientific Conference was part of Sokoine Memorial Week 2021 which honoured the late Edward Moringe Sokoine, Tanzania’s second Prime Minister, after whom SUA was named. The memorial week was the second in a series of bi-annual events which have been held since 2017 to disseminate technologies and to celebrate the late Prime Minister’s contribution to agricultural transformation in Tanzania. Apart from the scientific conference, the memorial week featured different activities including exhibitions on technology, innovation, and research and development in agriculture, livestock, and fisheries. 

The scientific conference comprised of parallel sessions in which 164 papers were presented under the following five main themes:

  1. Agricultural innovations for enhanced food security and economic growth.
  2. Pests, diseases, and innovative control for improved food security and health.
  3. Policy framework, economic transformation, and quality livelihoods.
  4. Contribution of forestry, wildlife management and tourism to economic development.
  5. Public engagement in research and innovation for sustainable economic transformation.

Key presentations on APRA research

APRA Tanzania researchers presented the following six papers on APRA’s studies on the effects of rice commercialisation on women and the environment, and effects of sunflower commercialisation and poverty reduction in Singida region.

Women empowerment, household food security and dietary diversity: Experience from rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania

This study found that farmers’ livelihoods improved between 2017 and 2019. However, there was no major improvement for women who live in households which are headed by male, older and medium-scale farmers. Small-scale farmers, female-headed households and youth engaged less in rice commercialisation, suggesting a need for infrastructural, policy and institutional changes to include these households in rice production and commercialisation.

Livestock, crop commercialisation and poverty reduction among rural households in Singida region, Tanzania

This paper addressed key policy questions, such as whether livestock enhances or inhibits crop commercialisation, and the effects of commercialisation on people of different socio-economic groups. This study found that livestock enhances crop commercialisation and reduces poverty.  However, commercialisation and poverty levels varied between male and female-headed households, young and old farmers, and medium- and small-scale farmers, creating a need for improved crop-livestock integration, use of livestock manure and other productivity enhancing technologies.

Impact of rice commercialisation on livelihoods in Kilombero valley, Tanzania: Anybody left behind?

This study revealed improvement in livelihoods between 2017 and 2019 but there was less improvement for women who live in households which are headed by male, older and medium-scale farmers. Moreover, small-scale farmers, female-headed households and youth are excluded from rice commercialisation due to limited resources. The findings suggest that these marginalised households should be included in rice commercialisation, and sustaining such improvements requires diverse livelihood options and efforts to ensure inclusivity by the government and other development agencies.

Rice commercialisation in Mngeta Kilombero district: Policy implications for inclusive poverty reduction and sustainability

This paper found that rice commercialisation is an ongoing process which positively impacts on livelihoods. The paper recommends policy, institutional and cultural changes to intensify and expand rice commercialisation including enhanced access to land and capital resources by women and youth. 

Inclusion of women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Morogoro and Singida Regions.

This study explored the impact of the ongoing rice and sunflower commercialisation on the inclusion of the youth and women on social and economic development in the study areas. The study shows that although rice and sunflower commercialisation have empowered women, there were more livelihood improvements for men than for women. Further, the youth engaged in other livelihood improvement activities due to rice and sunflower commercialisation. This paper recommends better ways through which women and youth can participate in rice and sunflower commercialisation.

Rice commercialisation in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania and its implications on food security and the environment

This study found that famers in Kilombero engaged in area expansion and intensification of rice farms. Further, rice commercialisation and the use of inorganic fertilisers increased with farm size. Rice commercialisation increased food security to different degrees for different categories of farmers. However, increased farm sizes sometimes expanded into marginal and protected areas leading to land degradation. In the same vein, increased use of fertilisers and agrochemicals will pollute water, negatively impacting people’s health in the long run. Since both measures may eventually reduce land productivity, the study recommends the promotion of rice commercialisation in accordance with the second National Rice Development Strategy of 2019 which addresses challenges caused by encroachment of protected areas and puts in place regulations on the use of agrochemicals.


The scientific conference provided an opportunity for APRA researchers to contribute to the provision of solutions to contemporary challenges which face communities in Tanzania and beyond. The contributions were in line with closing remarks by Professor Maulilio Kipanyula, Director of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which challenged researchers to conduct studies that seek to solve societal problems.

The papers referenced in this blog are being processed within the outcomes of the conference, which have not yet been made available. This blog will be updated to provide access to the papers, when available.

Dynamic drivers of land use change in Zimbabwe

What are the drivers of land use change and how do they interact over time? Are the changes, uni-directional and linear, or are the dynamics more complex? This is the question we posed for our study site in Mvurwi in northern Zimbabwe for the period 1984 to 2018, now published in APRA Working Paper 48. This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

Using Landsat satellite imagery we looked at land cover change across the area over 34 years, including former large-scale farms (now resettlement farms, both small-scale and medium-scale) and one ward in the nearby Chiweshe communal area. This broad assessment was complemented by an in-depth look at a particular site, focusing on one ward. The satellite analysis was combined with field interviews with those who had lived through these changes, together with a wider analysis of changes in demography, agricultural policy, economic contexts and politics. What emerged was an interesting story.

Open forests: a dynamic environment

Mvurwi is a high potential region receiving on average about 750 mm of rainfall annually. There are sandy loam soils and a diverse miombo savannah woodland. These are open forests, with mixed patches of denser woodland with patches of grassland in between. In the past grassland areas were created and maintained by the actions of elephants and other large herbivores, or exist in places such as wetlands where trees will not grow.

Today, such patches are created through land clearance combined with grazing by domestic animals. As William Bond from UCT explains is in his excellent book – Open Ecosystems: Ecology and Evolution Beyond the Forest Edge – open forest environments are very common across Africa and are the dominant ecosystem in southern Africa’s savannah environments. These are not the classic closed forests of the foresters’ and satellite image analysts’ imagination, but a mixed, variegated environment, maintained by herbivory and human action.  

This has implications for how we understand land use change in such environments. It is not a binary forest/not forest choice, perhaps with the intermediate option of ‘scrub’, but a much more dynamic landscape that shifts through different pressures as forest areas increase and decrease and grassland (or cropped) patches change.

Land use change: cyclical not linear

What happens to land use when you redistribute land to multiple new land holders? Well, forest cover declines and a more open landscape emerges with woodlands and farms interspersed. This much is obvious – although the number of papers I see condemning Zimbabwe’s land reform for destruction of trees is amazing, such is the strength of the negative narrative.

However, this is the least interesting part of the story. Our analysis indeed showed that land reform did of course result in a decline in forest cover through clearance of lands on what were large, underutilised large-scale farms, often used for very extensive grazing. This occurred especially between 2000 and 2004, following the land reform of 2000. But this was not a permanent state as so often assumed. After 2004, woodland cover increased again (2004-09), before decreasing in the most recent period (2009-18).

Cyclical patterns were equally repeated in earlier periods when the land was under different ownership. The past was not a presumed ideal of continuous forest cover, undisturbed by the horrors of small-scale farming. Although we did not have satellite imagery earlier and did not look at the old aerial photographs, I am sure that in the earlier periods, when tobacco farming was expanding and profitable on the large-scale farms, there were similar dynamics as seen today as settlers cleared the land.

What explained all these changes? It was not a standard Malthusian story of inexorable rises in population pressure resulting in deforestation – the story told in so many of those doom-and-gloom papers I mentioned earlier. Instead, there were cycles – periods of woodland expansion then retreat, and then repeats, as conditions changed. These cycles were driven by a combination of factors, not just population growth; although this is of course part of the story.

In the early 1980s, both large-scale and communal farming was recovering from the impact of major droughts, with vegetation cover bouncing back.  Wider economic and political conditions had a clear effect. For example, the structural adjustment period from the early 1990s saw large-scale farmers contract their operations to small, high value production of horticulture, floriculture and so on, with some switching to wildlife. This resulted in an expansion of woodland as bush expanded to previously farmed fields. In the communal areas, structural adjustment saw the withdrawal of state support and subsidies, and so a contraction of farming activity is seen.

By contrast, in more recent years there has been a decline of forest cover due to agricultural expansion. The 2000 land reform was a key moment, with major land clearing happening in the period after 2000. But after 2004, the trend was temporarily reversed due to the economic consequences of economic chaos and hyperinflation on agriculture, particularly tobacco. This changed again after 2009, when a boom in tobacco production had a big impact, with the expansion of tobacco production (and also demand for wood for curing), resulting in significant declines in woodland area. After 2009, with the Government of National Unity and the dollarisation of the economy, there was a level of stability that saw incentives for agriculture return, and especially tobacco production in this area.

A more sophisticated approach to land use change analysis is needed

The APRA Working Paper gives much more detail of the fascinating twists and turns of a complex tale. It is best read alongside a longer history of agriculture in the area, appearing in another APRA Working Paper in the same series (see an earlier blog). Our study suggests the need for land use analysis to investigate complex patterns through multiple lenses. A simple analysis of satellite images is not enough to unpack the full story, and such patterns seen from space need interpretation from diverse sources, including from those living in the area.

Satellite-based analysis of land use change is all the rage these days, as it’s (relatively) easy, is now cheap and can be subject to multiple quant analyses through widely available software that impress journal editors and reviewers (well often not me!). But it’s not enough. Our satellite analysis was basic (Landsat after all was the earliest of the public satellites and so the imagery is not sophisticated), but it was long term (over 34 years) and so allows changes and cycles to be revealed. And most importantly, we didn’t stop there, but went to the field, studied accounts in the archives and reviewed the policy debates to explore what were the drivers behind the changes.

Influence of rice commercialisation on poverty reduction levels in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania

Written by: Aida Isinika and Ntengua Mdoe

The commercialisation of smallholder agriculture has been considered a key strategy for sustainably reducing poverty and achieving equitable growth across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In Tanzania, linking farmers to markets is pursued as an important strategy towards commercialisation and agricultural transformation under the National Development Programme and current Five-year Development Plan for the period 2016 – 2021 and the national vision up to 2025. This blog examines changes in rice commercialisation and poverty levels of different farmer categories that have occurred between 2017 and 2019, as presented in APRA Working Paper 63, based on the findings from Mngeta division, Kilombero Valley in Morogoro region, Tanzania, where rice is the most important food and cash crop.

Rice commercialisation, measured by the Rice Commercialisation Index (RCI) is defined as the share of paddy/rice harvested from the total volume harvested. Poverty was measured by the multi-poverty index (MPI). Policy recommendations are made to improve rice value chain performance in the study area. Agricultural commercialisation is associated with higher use of productivity-increasing inputs, which lead to crop intensification as well as increasing usage of inputs such as tillage implements, which lead to area expansion or extensification. In the context of this study the inputs included purchased seed, inorganic fertiliser, farmyard manure, agrochemicals (pesticides and herbicides), implements and hired labour.

Study findings

According to the findings, there is a decline in the land available per household for farming, including rice production (Figure 1a). Farmers have responded by using higher proportions of all inputs except purchased seed and farmyard manure. The positive trend in inputs usage is consistent with increasing agricultural intensification, while increasing use of tillage services and hired labour corresponds to extensification (Figures 1b and 1c). Both intensification and extensification have been associated with rising commercialisation. The largest increase occurred in the use of herbicides where 11.2 per cent more households used the input in 2019 relative to 2017, compared to only 2.4 percent for inorganic fertiliser. Meanwhile, the decline of households using purchased seed and farmyard manure was associated with their limited availability. The use of services (tillage, extension and mobile money) also improved by at least 5.6 per cent (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Sample mean values for use of inputs and services

The combined effect of the changes in input usage brought significant to marginal decline in yield across all farmer categories, except among medium-scale farmers whose yield increased by 13.3 per cent for the whole sample (Figure 2).  This also led to a decline in the mean volume of paddy harvested and the volume sold, resulting a decline in the RCI across all farmer categories (Figure 3), being influenced by many positive (schooling, land owned, input use) and negative (household size, age and gender of household head and distance from nearest large rice mill) factors. 

Figure 2. Changes in paddy median yield by farmer category

Source: Authors’ own

Figure 3. Changes in median RCI by farmer categories

Source: Authors’ own

Nonetheless, the livelihood outcomes measured by the MPI showed a significant decline in poverty, representing livelihood improvement, both in terms of the MPI score and the decline in the number of MPI poor households (Figure 4). While the RCI had a poverty-reducing effect, this effect was only significant at higher RCI levels (fifth quintile). This implies that there are other economic activities in the study area which contributed to poverty reduction or livelihood improvement.

Figure 4. Changes in the MPI score and MPI poor households

So, where did the decline in MPI, representing livelihood improvement, come from? The analysis shows that it came from enterprise diversification at the farm level, including other crops (bananas and cocoa), livestock and non-farm income, the last two accounting for over forty per cent of total household income (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Composition of total household income

Moreover, the analysis showed that livelihood improvement also depends on how a household spent the income they earned. The most livelihood improvement was recorded from households that spent their income to improve; sanitation, quality of house (floor), children’s education and electricity. The bottom line is, while income earned from rice commercialisation is important for poverty reduction it is only one income component, and how that income is spent is equally important.  This means, while development efforts should strive to raise income, efforts should equally be directed at addressing factors that enable households to diversify as a risk management strategy. In addition, development agents should work with local communities to promote optimum and equitable use of income earned by families.

Figure 6. Photos representing intensification and extensification

APRA Working Paper 63: Rice Commercialisation Effects in Mngeta, Kilombero District, Tanzania: Identifying the Underlying Factors

Written by: Aida Isinika, Gilead Mlay, Ntengua Mdoe, Gideon Boniface, Christopher Magomba and Devotha Kilave

Rice production is the most dominant farming system in Kilombero valley in Morogoro region, Tanzania, accounting for more than 80 per cent of cultivated land within the valley. This paper examines changes in rice commercialisation and livelihood outcomes for different categories of farmers in the Mngeta division, Kilombero District, Tanzania. Understanding the underlying factors of agricultural commercialisation enables policymakers to ensure that policy interventions promote inclusive and equitable involvement of all farmers and other value chain actors, especially women and youths, who have been excluded from most development initiatives in the past.

Worker-peasants and peasant-workers: new labour regimes in rural Zimbabwe

This blog draws on the paper Agricultural commercialisation and changing labour regimes in Zimbabwe just out open access in JCAS. The work was supported by UK FCDO through the APRA programme. This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

Much academic debate about rural farm labour has focused on the idea of linear transitions in labour regimes through processes of agricultural commercialisation. This sees farmworkers as either moving towards a class of wage-labour, profiting from modernising, efficient, large-scale agricultural commercialisation, or into subsistence, peasant-based family farming. Yet data discussed in a new open access paper just out in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies shows that neither of these simple transitions is happening.

In our studies in northern Zimbabwe, most of those we define as ‘farmworkers’ – both men and women – combine elements of both small-scale agricultural work and wage-work through various types of employment. In addition, they also participate in the informal economy, with involvement in small-scale artisanal mining, trading and so on. These are the diverse ‘working people’ described by Issa Shivji and represent what Henry Bernstein calls the ‘fragmented classes of labour’.  

Our new paper builds on our earlier work in Mvurwi area, published in Development and Change in 2018, but extends it beyond the A1 resettlements to look at the different labour regimes across new land reform areas (A1/A2), large-scale commercial farms (LSCFs) and communal areas (CAs), spanning Mvurwi and Chiweshe. The findings equally complement the important work on labour in the post land reform era by Walter Chambati and of course the pioneering analyses of Sam Moyo.

Across the different land uses, we see an array of patterns, ranging from stable wage-work to successful accumulation largely from part-time farming to diversified livelihoods emerging under highly precarious conditions. A complex story is evident that challenges the standard, linear narratives, as well as the assumptions still evident in much policy debate about who is a ‘farmworker’ derived from the pre-land reform era.

Diverse working people

A dual character of worker-peasants or peasant-workers in the context of an informalised economy and labour market is observed. Ambivalent, dynamic, hybrid class positions describe the new labour regimes. As our earlier work has discussed, labelling thus becomes difficult: ‘farmworker’ is clearly an inadequate descriptor, but as an important set of ‘classes of labour’ supporting agriculture under variable labour regimes, these diverse working people are clearly vital for the wider agrarian economy, and a greater understanding of their livelihoods is important.

In post-land reform Zimbabwe, access to land by former farmworkers displaced in situ, and now living in former labour compounds, has enabled them to engage in farming and other off-farm activities facilitating consolidation as accumulating worker-peasants. They have mobilised their skill and labour to work for the new A1 and A2 farmers, but increasingly on their own terms. Gaining access to land has been central, and skilled farm work has allowed them to produce and accumulate, even from very small plots.

By contrast, workers in the CAs tend to be poorer peasants – often younger households with limited land and productive assets – who need to combine farm production with piecework employment. A similar pattern also occurs in the A1 areas, although there is more scope for land rental and borrowing and so building an asset base through farming.

In the LSCF, A2 and A2-Joint Venture areas, farmworkers are more classic wage-workers, but flexible expansion to other livelihood options is occurring, with a range of land acquisition and informal employment opportunities pursued, as wage work becomes insufficient to sustain livelihoods. This becomes necessary especially for temporary workers, particularly women and younger people who, due to casualisation of the labour market, can only rely on wage employment for part of the year. Casualisation and feminisation of labour go hand-in-hand, and most women engage in the labour market on a temporary, informal basis, usually responding to seasonal demand.

Fluid, hybrid labour regimes

These categories of ‘working people’ are not static. People move between places and seek different opportunities. With the offer of land – for example, the illegal land invasion near our LSCF case – workers may leave their compounds and adopt a more flexible, bricolage approach, while maintaining some links to the original farm. Compound dwellers may increase their land holdings and become full-time farmers, abandoning wage work as an option, while communal area dwellers may abandon their areas in the hope of better opportunities in full-time work on LSCFs, A2-JVs or A2 farms or as farmers in a resettlement area.

The removal of the old form of what Blair Rutherford called ‘domestic government’ on commercial farms and its replacement with ‘residential autonomy’ following land reform has resulted in a major shift in labour regimes. The massive informalisation of the economy after 2000 has generated a new impetus to diversify livelihoods, creating new classes of labour. The new ‘farmworker’ – working people combining wage work with a range of other activities including agriculture – enjoys greater flexibility and bargaining power resulting from diversified livelihoods options, although suffers extreme precarity relying on unregulated labour markets and very small patches of land.

The new regimes of farm labour that have emerged following land reform remain poorly studied. The pattern we have researched over the years in the Mvurwi-Chiweshe area with its large population of resident farm labour before land reform and high potential commercial agriculture is very different to the patterns found elsewhere. As key contributors to post-land reform agriculture, the new farm labour is also an important yet still ignored focus for policy and advocacy. Understanding the new regimes and the forms of livelihood of diverse, rural ‘working people’ is an important first step to improved policy and support for a vulnerable, yet vitally important, group of people in rural Zimbabwe.

Are smallholder farms or medium-scale farms more productive in Nigeria?

Written by: Oluwatoba Omotilewa

In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), support for smallholder-led agricultural strategy has been motivated by the stylised fact that smallholder farmers are more productive. This stylised fact is known as inverse relationship (IR) between farm size and productivity, which has been widely observed in developing countries around the world. Broadly, the IR suggests that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms. However, documented evidence of IR in SSA is largely limited to farms operating 5ha or less. This blog looks to a recent study of a greater range of farm sizes in Nigeria to better understand the reality of productivity as it relates to farm size.

The paucity of evidence of the IR between farm size and productivity that currently exists becomes especially concerning given the policy implications that may derive from limited evidence, and the recent rapid expansion of medium-scale farms in much of Africa. The fundamental question remains whether African agricultural development and food security can be most effectively achieved mainly by prioritising and promoting small-scale farm holdings, or if alternative modes or scales of production are required.

The current study

A recent study1 by researchers at Michigan State University and the African Development Bank (AfDB), with funding from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa programme, examines the relationship between farm size and productivity among farm sizes 0-40ha in Nigeria. Given the limited documented evidence of IR, recent expansion of medium-scale farms in Africa, and the drive by the AfDB’s strategy to facilitate medium to larger-scale farms on the continent of Africa, this study provides the first empirical evidence to policymakers and development partners on the farm-size productivity debate in Nigeria. It is also one of only two studies to have examined the IR stylised fact in SSA – the only other known study examined IR on larger-scale farms between 0 and 70ha in Kenya.

The study, titled ‘A revisit of farm size and productivity: Empirical evidence from a wide range of farm sizes in Nigeria’, used primary data from uniquely sampled farm operators, ranging from smallholders to medium-scale farms. It also uses multiple measures of productivity, including gross and net crop and farm outputs. In addition to examining IR on a wide range of farm sizes in Nigeria, it also examines farm productivity among medium-scale farm operators to see if there is a difference in their productivity depending on their mode of entry into medium-scale farming.

Previously, evidence on the characteristics of medium-scale farmers show two distinct entry pathways: first, operators whose primary source of employment was small-scale farming and operating less than 5ha of land – termed stepped-up medium-scale farmers; and second, individuals who are primarily engaged in off-farm employment, subsequently acquired land, and started farming between 5 and 100ha of land – termed stepped-in medium-scale farmers. Understanding this heterogeneity in productivity among medium-scale farms operators, based on mode of entry into farming, may have significant policy implications for both agricultural productivity, food security, land distribution, and inclusive growth in Africa.


Findings from this study show a U-shaped relationship between farm size and productivity over the range of farm sizes between 0 and 40ha. This result indicates that small-scale farms are highly productive, as well as bigger farms on the wider end of the range. For instance, when farm sizes were restricted to small-scale farms only, the study results are indeed consistent with previous literature in the SSA region that IR holds among smallholder farms and productivity decreases as farm size increases. Moreover, when farm sizes between 0 and 40ha were examined in full, productivity declines as farm sizes increase up to 22ha – this is known as a turning point – beyond which farm productivity starts to increase as farm sizes continue to increase.

Figure 1: Mean distribution of gross farm output/ha (‘000) by farm size and emergence pathway (stepped-up or stepped-in) into medium-scale farming. Distribution is at 5ha intervals.
Note: fs*_**up represents farm size ranging from * to ** for a stepped-up operator
          fs*_**in represents farm size ranging from * to ** for a stepped-in operator
 Farm sizef5-10f10-15f15-20f20-25f25-30f30-35f35-40
Step-up (N)325732419000
Step-in (N)326993727958

Furthermore, when medium-scale farms operations are distinguished between those who were actively engaged as small-scale farmers and stepped up/expanded their scale of operation, and those who were primarily in non-farm employment and later stepped into medium-scale farming, the turning point for farmers who stepped up into medium-scale farming is at 11ha, in contrast to 22ha for those who stepped in. These findings show that the stepped-up operators tended to exhibit a positive relationship between farm size and farm productivity at an earlier threshold farm size than stepped-in farm operators, indicating that medium-scale farmers in SSA are heterogeneous in productivity, depending on mode of entry into farming (see Figure 1 for illustration).  

Conclusions and implications

Overall, the above findings have two implications: first, the exclusive focus of agricultural development strategies on smallholders should be questioned. Rather, a dual-pronged strategy that focuses on both smallholder and medium farms, while optimising spillover effects, will improve agricultural productivity in Nigeria and perhaps SSA. Second, policies facilitating smallholders’ ability to expand the scale of their operations beyond small-scale agriculture could contribute substantially to growth in farm productivity, agricultural commercialisation, rural development, and increased food security in Nigeria. However, in most areas only a small proportion (1 in 20) of smallholder operators are in a position to scale up without support. In addition, rural population growth in Nigeria presents a challenge to consolidating agricultural lands. Hence, any policy to enhance agricultural land consolidation among smallholders to increase agricultural productivity should focus on structural changes to create jobs and absorb the population in rural areas. 

1 Oluwatoba James Omotilewa, Thomas S Jayne,  Milu Muyanga, Adebayo B Aromolaran,  Lenis Saweda O Liverpool-Tasie, Titus O Awokuse, (2021). “A revisit of farm size and productivity: Empirical evidence from a wide range of farm sizes in Nigeria”. World Development, Vol. 146.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Eden Dzarma