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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women and youth in Tanzania are, for instance, largely the result of cultural restrictions on the ownership of ancestral land. Regarding financial capital, women and youth cannot access loans from commercial banks because of their low ownership of assets used by banks as collateral. This blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 30, APRA Working Paper 59 and APRA Brief 33, which seek to understand the reality of women and youth’s involvement in these value chains.

April 14, 2022


Polygamy and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Agricultural commercialisation is perceived as a positive step towards development and economic growth in Malawi, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities. However, the process of commercialisation is hindered by a number of factors, and remains unequal in its benefits as a result of gender inequalities that exits in the country. In this second blog of our two-part series on marital issues’ effects on agricultural commercialisation, we turn our attention to polygamy and its role in limiting women’s empowerment. Read the previous blog in this series, which focuses on marital issues in singular marriages as well as the experiences of male- versus female-headed households, here.

April 13, 2022


Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems


Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

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April 7, 2022


Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform


This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

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Marriage and agricultural commercialisation in Malawi


Despite agricultural commercialisation being considered a positive step towards Malawi’s development and economic growth, as well as a source of household income and livelihoods among local communities, there are a number of factors that impede this process. Our research established that despite the fact that most households engage in some degree of agricultural commercialisation, its benefits remain limited. In this blog, we explore how marital issues affect agricultural commercialisation, specifically with regards to women’s involvement, and, in reverse, how commercialisation impacts marital relations. We use data collected by the APRA Malawi team, dwelling much on the qualitative data collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and life histories.


Journal Article: Tobacco Farming Following Land Reform in Zimbabwe: A New Dynamic of Social Differentiation and Accumulation


Tobacco has been central to the agrarian economy of Zimbabwe since the early 1900s, when it became the backbone of the new settler economy following colonisation. Since the land reform of 2000, tobacco has taken on a new impetus, with production now often exceeding that generated by white commercial farming in the 1990s. Today, tobacco is being produced predominantly by smallholders, with those on resettlement land being especially important. Tobacco production is supported by a range of buying companies, auction houses, transporters and contract arrangements, and small-scale farmers are thus tightly connected to a global commodity chain. This article explores tobacco production in A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi area, Mazowe district, a high-potential area to the north of Harare. The article is based on a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with farmers carried out between 2017 and 2019. The article explores who are the winners and losers in the changing dynamics of smallholder tobacco production in these land reform sites and how different groups of farmers combine tobacco with other crops and with off-farm enterprises. Drawing on a simple typology of producers derived from the analysis of survey data from 310 A1 farmers, we examine the role of tobacco in complex patterns of accumulation and social differentiation, looking at class, gender and age dynamics. The conclusion discusses how the tobacco boom is reshaping the agrarian economy and its underlying social relations. This is a highly dynamic setting, influenced by how tobacco production is incorporated into farming systems, how its production is financed, how and where it is marketed and how it is combined with other crops and other income-earning opportunities.

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APRA Brief 33: Is Rice and Sunflower Commercialisation in Tanzania Inclusive for Women and Youth?


Rice is Tanzania’s third most important staple crop after maize and cassava, and produced by more than 1 million households who are mostly small-scale farmers. Meanwhile sunflower is the most important edible oil crop in Tanzania, also grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Over the last two decades, rice and sunflower have increasingly become important sources of income. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, in collaboration with development agencies, to commercialise rice and sunflower production to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in both value chains. There have also been efforts aimed at ensuring sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these initiatives, women and youth involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is likely to be constrained by their limited access to land and financial capital. Looking at government policy to promote commercial rice and sunflower production for poverty reduction, this brief examines the extent to which households headed by women and youth have been able to participate in the commercialisation process of the two value chains.

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Journal Article: Is Agricultural Commercialisation Sufficient for Poverty Reduction? Lessons from Rice Commercialisation in Kilombero, Tanzania


Agricultural commercialisation is widely promoted as a solution for poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because it has been associated with rising cash income, improved nutrition and living standards. In Tanzania, agricultural commercialization is an important component for agricultural transformation to meet national goals and achieve global sustainable development goals. This paper uses data from Mngeta division in Kilombero district, a major rice-producing area in Tanzania, to demonstrate that attaining higher commercialisation may not be enough to ensure poverty reduction among small-scale farmers and medium-scale farmers. The findings show that rice commercialisation in the study area was driven by intensification and extensification through sustainable rice intensification technologies and animal-drawn technologies, respectively. Nonetheless, the majority of medium-scale farmers who employed animal drawn technology for area expansion and scored the highest rice commercialisation index, surprisingly, scored the highest multidimensional poverty index, representing a higher poverty level than small-scale farmers. This demonstrates that while increased cash income through commercialisation is necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure poverty reduction. Hence more needs to be done to address institutional and cultural factors that impede initiatives to translate higher income to livelihood improvement and facilitate inclusive poverty reduction.

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Journal Article: Heterogeneous Market Participation Channels and Household Welfare


This paper uses panel data and qualitative interviews from southwestern Ghana to analyse farmers’ heterogeneous oil palm marketing decisions and the effect on household welfare. We show that despite the supposed benefits that smallholders could derive from participation in global agribusiness value chains via formal contracts, such arrangements are rare although two of Ghana’s ‘big four’ industrial oil palm companies are located in the study area. In the absence of formal contracts, farmers self-select into four main oil palm marketing channels (OPMCs). These OPMCs are associated with varying levels of welfare, with processing households and those connected to industrial companies by verbal contracts being better off. Furthermore, own-processing of palm fruits is shown to reduce gender gaps in household welfare. We also unearth community and household level factors that hamper or facilitate participation in remunerative OPMCs. These results have implications for development policy and practice related to inclusive agricultural commercialization.

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January 8, 2024


Journal Article: Precarious Prospects? Exploring Climate Resilience of Agricultural Commercialization Pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialization is a central objective across Africa, one linked to poverty reduction, sectoral transformation and increasingly, climate resilience and adaptation. There is much attention given to the extent to which agricultural commercialization serves to reduce poverty, but less to the commercialization pathways that lead towards or away from that outcome. There are, likewise, many studies that project hugely adverse future impacts of climate change on commercial agricultural production, but surprisingly little empirical work on how climate impacts are affecting current agricultural commercialization prospects and pathways for smallholder farmers. This paper, therefore, offers an analysis of levels of climate vulnerability and resilience within existing commercialization pathways in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It embeds the account within an analysis of the underlying causes of uneven distributions of vulnerability and resilience. We find that while being able to practise commercially viable agriculture can contribute to resilience, it does not do so for the people who most need commercialization to reduce poverty. It is more common for farmers to face what we term an adaptation trap. We conclude by considering what these cases add to our understanding of climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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December 18, 2023


Journal Article: The Politics of Policy Failure in Ghana: The Case of Oil Palm


The paper argues that political economy factors have hindered the development of the oil palm value chain in Ghana, which has consistently underperformed despite significant policy support and the sector’s strategic importance to the national economy. These factors include political instability between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, as well as the emergence of a competitive clientelist political settlement since the country’s return to constitutional rule. Drawing on key informant interviews and documentary sources, the paper demonstrates that policies over the past two decades have failed to address the peculiar nature of the value chain, which is bifurcated into a smallholder/artisanal sub-sector and an estate/industrial processing sub-sector. Since the 1990s, one aspect of policy failure in the sector has been the ‘paradox of good intentions’ that arises from the simultaneous pursuit of economic transformation and inclusive development in a political context described by some scholars as ’strong democracy, weak state’. The logic of electoral competition shortens politicians’ time horizons, predisposing them to prioritise highly visible distributive policies (like input subsidies) over structural reforms (like land tenure issues or solving market frictions). Consequently, despite almost two centuries of continuous policy support, the sector’s productivity remains at the same level it would have been if it had been left to operate without any state assistance.

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Journal Article: Gender Disparity in Cocoa Production Resource Access and Food Security in Ogun State, Nigeria


Understanding gender disparities in production resource allocation is critical for agricultural development and cannot be overstated. The study evaluated farmers’ access to cocoa production resources and its implication for food security in Ogun State, Nigeria. The data were collected from 813 respondents with the use of structured questionnaire which involved 420 male and 393 female farmers. Frequencies, percentages, household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and logit regression were used to analyse the data while the hypotheses were tested with ttest. The t-tests showed significant differences in access to labour, credit and extension service but no difference in access to land as farmers have land either through purchase or inheritance. The mean score for access to credit by male farmers was 0.05 and 0.01 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.04 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). The mean score for access to labour by male farmers was 0.398 and 0.099 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.298 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance. Lastly, mean score for access to extension service by male farmers was 0.145 and 0.048 by female farmers with a mean difference of 0.096 which was significant at 0.01 level of significance (t = 4.69, p ≤ 0.01). Male dominance was seen in the household with regard to decisions on farm activities. The household diversity score showed that female farmers consumed more food groups making them more food secure than their male counterparts. Age, education, access to labour, farm size and monthly income were found to be significant drivers of food security of farmers in study area. It was recommended that policies that ensure equal opportunities for male and female farmers should be put in place. There is also a need for improvements on credit facilities and extension services.

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Unlocking the untapped potential of oil palm farming in south-western Ghana


In the green fertile landscapes of south-western Ghana, oil palm farming has long been the backbone of rural livelihoods. Shedding light on existing oil palm marketing arrangements and their welfare outcomes reveals a story that is both promising and challenging. So, is a prosperous future for these farming communities possible? Our forthcoming publication in Oxford Development Studies, reveals our findings.

November 13, 2023


Do women cocoa farmers in Nigeria face gender disparities in resource access, decision-making and food security?


Cocoa is a significant source of revenue for farmers in Nigeria. While women play an important part in the cocoa industry, gender norms reduce their access to resources that have the potential to enhance their production.

October 2, 2023


Why democracy hasn’t resolved policy failures in Ghana’s oil palm sector


Ghana’s oil palm industry has consistently fallen short of its potential, despite continuous policy support – but why? This perplexing issue is the subject of an APRA research paper recently published in the journal World Development Perspectives.

June 29, 2023


In Memory of Dr Hannington Odame (1956-2023)


It is with great sadness that I must report the tragic loss of our dear friend and long-time collaborator Dr Hannington Odame, who passed away after a sudden illness on the evening of 20 June 2023.

June 26, 2023


An agrarian revolution in the Fumbisi Valley: the modernisation of farming


Written by: Joseph A. Yaro In past green revolutions, Africa has not fared well. During the 1970s, for instance, efforts were made to modernise practices for enhanced farmer efficacy and productivity – and, in turn, reduce poverty and hunger. During these periods, governments and international development organisations aimed to spread new crop cultivars and introduce… Read more »

June 15, 2023


Agricultural technology, food security and nutrition in Ghana


Written by: Lisa Capretti, Amrita Saha, Farai Jena and Fred Dzanku Agricultural technologies play an important role in helping smallholders to increase their yields and incomes, and therefore tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium,… Read more »

January 31, 2023


APRA Working Paper 95: Agricultural Technology, Food Security and Nutrition: Insight From Oil Palm Smallholders in Ghana


The use of agricultural technologies has facilitated gains from agricultural commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Africa. Practices that involve these technologies play an important role in tackling poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the link between agricultural technology practices, food security and nutrition is important, and has relevant implications for policymaking. Using new panel data for oil palm producers in Ghana from the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium, this paper sheds light on the relationship between the use of agricultural practices, food security and nutrition outcomes, focusing especially on the mediating role of women empowerment.

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December 19, 2022


How important is farm size to agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa?


The finding that smallholder farms are more productive than medium- to large-scale farms has long been documented, and has led to smallholder-led agricultural and development strategies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, evidence for this assertion has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. More recent evidence from Nigeria suggests that productivity varies widely within farms, regardless of farm size. This blog examines our recent study, utilizing data over a wider range of farm sizes over two years in Nigeria to further investigate how productivity relates to farm size.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

December 1, 2022


Ethiopia’s import dependence on rice-exporting countries: implications for policy and development responses


With the current instability in global grain markets – mainly due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climatic events impacting rice production – major rice-producing Asian countries have been considering steps to protect their domestic markets. This blog reflects on the possible implications of export bans or taxation measures taken by rice exporting countries on rice production and marketing in Ethiopia, along with the extent of policy and development interventions made by policymakers to mitigate the impacts.

© IFAD/Bernard Kalu

November 24, 2022


Journal Article: Determinants of Farmer’s Decision to Transit to Medium/Larger Farm Through Expansion of Land Area Under Commercial Tree Crop Plantation in Nigeria


Decision-making is central to farm management. This study assesses key factors influencing land allocation decisions of households with respects to tree crop cultivation in Nigeria. The study uses primary data collected electronically from a sample of 569 small and 495 medium-scale farmers in Ogun State.Tobit and Heckman regression models were estimated. The study finds that, farm households who have access to land markets and land tenure security, all-weather roads, agro-dealer services and better transportation services are more likely to cultivate tree crop fields and allocate a higher share of total farm holdings to tree crop enterprises. Farm households with more educated heads put larger area of land under commercial tree crop cultivation and those with larger off-farm income tend to cultivate less hectarage to tree crops. The share of farmland allocated to tree crops by male headed households is higher than the share by the female headed households. In addition, female and youth-headed households were found to be less likely to invest in commercial tree crop farming. Policies and intervention programs that would enhance access to land, agro-dealer services, all-weather roads, transportation services and security of land tenure could facilitate the redistribution of land in favour of commercial tree crops.

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November 15, 2022


Boosting commercialisation through the production of commercial tree crops in Nigeria


Farming in Nigeria has been historically dominated by small-scale farms (SSFs). However, recent evidence suggests that medium-scale farmers (MSFs) are becoming increasingly prominent. One pathway for MSF growth in Nigeria has been identified as the expansion of land area under commercial tree crop plantations, such as cocoa, cashew, oil palm, kola nut, and coconut. However, very little is currently known about the factors that drive this expansion. Our recently published journal paper aimed to fill this gap.

November 7, 2022


How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?


The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme, which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

September 27, 2022


APRA Working Paper 94: The Farm Size-Productivity Relationship: Evidence From Panel Data Analysis of Small- and Medium-Scale Farms in Nigeria


The finding that smaller farms are more productive than larger farms has long been documented. At present, evidence in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has been largely limited to data from farms operating 5ha and below. Examining changes in farm size distributions and their relationship with agricultural productivity is important not only for agricultural economists and development researchers but also for evidence-based policymaking which goes beyond the current smallholder-led strategies for development in the region. This study examined the dynamics of farm operations between small-scale farms and medium-scale farms over time in different farm size categories and their relationship with agricultural productivity using farming household data spanning 0–40ha in Nigeria.

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September 20, 2022


Tobacco and agrarian change in southern Africa


A great new special issue – tobacco and transformation – is out in the Journal of Southern African Studies, edited by Martin Prowse and Helena Pérez Niño. With reflections on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (mostly), it provides an important overview of a crucial crop, putting it in historical and regional perspective.


The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book


A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

August 25, 2022


Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at urban agriculture in different parts of Zimbabwe; from a city like Masvingo to small towns and growth points like Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. In all cases we see the massive growth of urban agriculture. This takes many forms from intensification of backyard plots to open space farming in insecure, but extensive patches to more regularised small farms in urban settings.

August 2, 2022


How to respond to ‘drought’: rethinking standard approaches


Over the last four weeks, a blog series has asked what is the best way to respond to ‘drought’? This is an important question for a country like Zimbabwe, and with climate change the question will become even more important. The answer though is not obvious.

August 1, 2022


Changing farm structure and agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria


Much of sub‐Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, is experiencing major changes in farmland ownership patterns. Among all farms below 100ha in size, the share of land on small‐scale farms (SSFs) under 5ha has declined over the last two decades. Medium‐scale farms (MSFs) (typically defined as farm holdings between 5 and 50ha) account for a rising share of total farmland, and the number of these farms is growing rapidly.

June 6, 2022


Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe


Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.


Journal Article: Does Women’s Engagement in Sunflower Commercialization Empower Them? Experience From Singida region, Tanzania 


Empowering women within sunflower value chains can create significant development opportunities for them and generate benefits for their families. This paper asks whether women’s engagement in sunflower commercialization influences their levels of empowerment. The paper uses data from a 2018 study conducted by Agricultural Policy Research in Africa. A cross-sectional research design was used, and data were collected using mixed methods involving primary, qualitative, and quantitative methods as well as secondary data from the literature. A total of 600 farm household heads and 205 focus group participants (7–15) from 15 villages were selected for the study. Qualitative and quantitative data were subjected to content and econometric analysis respectively, with the help of Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for the Social Sciences programs. The findings revealed that female household heads tend to benefit less than men from sunflower commercialization. Sunflower commercialization had a positive but insignificant influence on women’s empowerment: the study found that low levels of access to and control over productive resources resulted in low agricultural productivity, which affects empowerment levels. However, household commercialization involving all crops did have a positive and significant impact on the empowerment of women because non-cash crops were more likely to be retained by women, even when commercialized. This calls for policies that support and promote a diversified portfolio of livelihood options for women farmers in Singida region.

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June 1, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 26, 2022


Diversification and food security in crop-livestock farming systems of Singida Region, Tanzania


Diversification is a key strategy for coping with risks associated with climate change and variability among households in Africa’s semi-arid areas. The extent of diversification varies across households, but the crop and livestock enterprises undertaken comprise of at least one crop and one livestock species. As found in a recent APRA study, the nature of crop-livestock diversification in the farming systems of the semi-arid Singida Region, central Tanzania, has varying impacts for farmer food security. The research saught to answer the following policy-relevant questions: (i) How important is diversification in the crop-livestock farming systems of the Singida Region? (ii) What are the prominent crops and livestock species diversified by households in these farming systems? (ii) What is the degree of risk associated with different crop-livestock portfolios? (iii) How does crop-livestock diversification affect food security?

May 25, 2022


Agricultural commercialisation and rural employment


The seasonal nature of agricultural production under rainfed conditions in most parts of rural Ghana, as in other sub-Saharan countries, makes employment in small-scale agriculture alone inadequate for improving the wellbeing of most rural households. Boosting commercial agriculture could be the key to generating employment – not only within agriculture but also in the non-agricultural sector due to linkages between the farm and non-farm economy. Within this context, this blog reflects on the findings of APRA Working Paper 92, and addresses the following questions: What is the association between agricultural commercialisation and rural employment? What are the returns to agricultural employment in a high agriculture commercialisation zone, and how does it compare with non-agricultural employment? Are farm and non-farm employment counterparts or competitors in a high agriculture commercialisation zone?

May 23, 2022


APRA Working Paper 93: Changing Farm Structure and Agricultural Commercialisation: Implications for Livelihood Improvements Among Small-Scale Farmers in Nigeria


Research in several African countries shows the rapid rise of a medium-scale farming (MSF) sector. While national development policy strategies within the region officially regard the smallholder farming sector as an important (if not the main) vehicle for achieving agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction objectives, the meteoric rise of emergent farmers warrants their inclusion in efforts to understand the changing nature of farm structure and food value chains in Africa. The main objective of this working paper is to examine MSF1 as a potential pathway toward increased agricultural commercialisation.

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APRA Working Paper 92: Livelihood Outcomes of Agricultural Commercialisation, Women’s Empowerment and Rural Employment


Across Ghana, mixed-crop-livestock enterprises dominate the farming systems with most farmers producing both food staples and non-food cash crops. However, this paper focuses mainly on oil palm-producing farmers because oil palm is Ghana’s second most important industrial crop (aside from cocoa). However, it has a more extensive local value chain that allows for artisanal processing and thus, has huge potential for rural employment generation and poverty reduction. Oil palm is also one of the priority crops under Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. This paper reviews the livelihood outcomes with regards to agricultural commercialisation and how this particularly relates to women’s empowerment and rural employment in the oil palm sector in Ghana.

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Medium-scale farming as a policy tool for agricultural commercialisation and small-scale farm transformation in Nigeria


Land ownership patterns are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, medium-scale farms (MSFs), of between 5 and 100ha now account for more land than large-scale investors. Most African countries’ national agricultural investment plans and policy strategies officially view smallholder farming as the primary means of achieving agricultural growth, food security and poverty-reduction goals. However, many governments have adopted land and financial policies that implicitly encourage the rise of MSFs. APRA Policy Brief 32 investigates various questions around the formation, productivity and local impacts of MSFs in Nigeria; the main findings are summarised here.

May 12, 2022


APRA Working Paper 91: Effects of Commercialisation on Seaonsal Hunger: Evidence from Smallholder Resettlement Areas, Mazowe Distrct, Zimbabwe


Agricultural transformation towards intensive commercial production is a key facet of current development strategies pursued by African governments, aimed at improving welfare outcomes of farm households. However, in Zimbabwe, there is concern that increased commercialisation, especially through tobacco production, may have resulted in increased food and nutrition insecurity in the smallholder farming sector. Using data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers, this study examined the impacts of cash crop and food-based commercialisation pathways on seasonal food insecurity in rural households of Mazowe district.

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Journal Article: Livestock, Crop Commercialization and Poverty Reduction in Crop-Livestock Farming Systems in Singida Region, Tanzania


Livestock is an important component of crop-livestock farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper
examined the effect of livestock on crop commercialization and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in
crop-livestock farming systems in Singida Region, Tanzania. It was hypothesized that livestock enhances crop
commercialization and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers in the Region. Data for the analysis were
extracted from the Agricultural Policy Research for Africa (APRA) data set of 600 households selected randomly
from random samples of eight and seven villages in Iramba and Mkalama districts respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to compare ownership of livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity,
crop commercialization and poverty levels across different categories of farmers. Econometric analyses were used
to determine if livestock had a significant effect on crop commercialization and poverty levels, controlling for
other variables that might have an effect. The results of descriptive analyses show differences in ownership of
livestock, use of ox-plough and livestock manure, crop productivity, crop commercialization and poverty levels
across different categories of farmers while the results of econometric analysis show that livestock enhanced crop
commercialization. Apart from livestock, a range of other factors have worked together with livestock to drive the
crop commercialization process. Regarding the impact of commercialization, the findings show that farmers have
gained higher productivity (yield), signifying the potential of crop commercialization to reduce poverty. In general,
evidence from the results show decline in poverty as crop commercialization increases from zero to medium level.
Although crop commercialization has positively impacted on crop productivity (yields) and poverty, the results
show existence of socio-economic disparities. Male-headed households (MHH) and households headed by
medium-scale farmers (MSF), young farmers and livestock keepers were less poor than their counterpart femaleheaded households (FHH) and households headed by small-scale farmers (SSFs), older farmers and non-livestock
keepers. These social differences are consequences of differences in the use of ox-plough, livestock manure and
other productivity enhancing inputs. Exploiting the synergy between crop and livestock in crop-livestock farming
systems needs to be recognized and exploited in efforts geared towards enhancing crop commercialization and
reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in crop-livestock farming systems in Tanzania and elsewhere in SSA.

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Journal Article: Choice of Tillage Technologies and Impact on Paddy Yield and Food Security in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania


This paper analyses choice of alternative tillage technology options and their impact on paddy yield and food security in Kilombero valley of Morogoro Region, Tanzania. The results show that the choice of any tillage technology option combining hand hoe with animal traction and/or tractor is influenced by characteristics of household head (sex, age and education), access to extension, dependency ratio, land size and livestock assets. As hypothesized the three improved tillage technology options above the hand hoe enhance paddy yield and improve household food security. Factors other than tillage technology options that influence paddy yield and food security are characteristics of household head(sex, age and education), access to extension, use of fertilizer and herbicides, dependency ratio, farm size and livestock assets. The study recommends promotion of tillage technology options involving use of animal traction and yield enhancing inputs.

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May 11, 2022


What are the gender-focused challenges within agriculture and commercialisation, and how can we approach tackling these?


Agriculture remains the dominant employment activity among most households in Ghana, which currently engages 61% of the economically active population aged 15 years and above. However, returns to agrarian livelihood remain lower than gains from other sectors of the economy. APRA Working Paper 90 explores this reality, and the differential outcomes that emerge as a result of gender disparities in the country as well as potential pathways to addressing them.

May 5, 2022


APRA Working Paper 90: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Gendered Livelihood Outcomes in Rural South-Western Ghana


It is widely assumed that agricultural commercialisation leads to increased incomes and therefore better livelihood outcomes for farmers, including smallholders. But are the gains from commercial agriculture equitably distributed? Are there pathways to agricultural commercialisation that are more effective than others in empowering women and improving their nutrition security? Do non-crop livelihood options matter for rural households in vibrant crop commercialisation zones, and what is the influence of gender in this scenario? In this paper, household panel data from 1,330 farm households in south-western Ghana is used to address these salient questions.

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May 4, 2022


APRA Working Paper 89: Impact of Commercialisation Pathways on Income and Asset Accumulation: Evidence from Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe


Smallholder agricultural commercialisation has been seen as an important pathway out of rural poverty in developing countries. However, little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation pathways taken by farmers and welfare outcomes, such as farm income and asset accumulation. This paper fills this gap by taking advantage of data from two rounds of surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020 of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

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APRA Working Paper 88: Agricultural Commercialisation, Gender Relations and Women’s Empowerment in Smallholder Farm Households: Evidence from Zimbabwe


Agricultural commercialisation has been identified as an important part of the structural transformation process, as the economy grows from subsistence to highly commercialised entities that rely on the market for both inputs and for the sale of crops. However, this process is likely to leave some sections of society behind, particularly women. Little empirical evidence is available in sub-Saharan Africa that examines the relationship between commercialisation and women’s empowerment. This paper fills this gap and uses data from two rounds of surveys of smallholder farmers conducted in Zimbabwe to show that agricultural commercialisation reduces women’s empowerment, while crop diversification improves women’s empowerment.

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APRA Brief 36: Pathways to Inclusive Smallholder Agricultural Commercialisation: Which Way Now?


Agricultural commercialisation has the potential to provide a number of beneficial outcomes, including higher incomes and living standards for smallholder farmers. However, for these outcomes to be achieved, commercialisation must be inclusive and broad-based so as to link a large proportion of smallholders in rural areas to commercial, highly profitable value chains. In Malawi, where smallholder farmers contribute about 80 per cent to total food production and 20 per cent to total agricultural export earnings, agricultural commercialisation is especially imperative. While several activities have been undertaken to promote smallholder agricultural commercialisation over the past three decades, progress has not been satisfactory. Most smallholder farmers do not engage with markets on a consistent or sustainable basis. The main goal of the study on which this briefing paper is based was, therefore, to understand and track the underlying dynamics of smallholder agricultural commercialisation over time, and to identify policy recommendations to address the issues that exist in its uptake

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APRA Brief 35: The Dilemma of Climate-resilient Agricultural Commercialisation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe


The implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation – and the implications of agricultural commercialisation for climate change – are profound. On the one hand, agricultural production is, by nature, highly sensitive to climate change and variability. On the other, commercial agricultural production for international food markets is one of the lead sectors for generating greenhouse gas emissions that are driving anthropogenic climate change. This presents the following conundrum: the burden of the changing climate falls most heavily on smallholder farmers in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural commercialisation is seen as an important route out of poverty. What, then, are the prospects for climate-resilient, commercially-viable smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries which are facing this dilemma? We have explored this question through APRA research produced in Singida, Tanzania, and Mazowe, Zimbabwe.

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Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage?


What are the roles of protected areas in national development? Are parks national, even global, assets preserved for posterity and for protecting biodiversity, or are they part of a shared, local heritage, where nature and human use must be seen as integrated?

April 25, 2022


Far from inclusive: smallholder farmer commercialisation in Malawi


What are the trends and patterns emerging in Malawi’s agricultural commercialisation process? What is the influence of these trends on poverty and food security, and the drivers of the process? How inclusive is agricultural commercialisation in the country? This blog, the second of a two-part series, explores the answers to these questions as they pertain to Malawi, based on the findings of a recent APRA paper, Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi.

April 21, 2022


A tale of two countries: patterns and drivers of smallholder commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria


What are the emerging patterns of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana and Nigeria? Are there geographical and gender differences in commercialisation among households? How have poverty levels changed over time? What are the key drivers of agricultural commercialisation in the two countries? The current blog, the first of a two-part series, draws answers to these questions from a recent APRA study on the Patterns and drivers of agricultural commercialisation: evidence from Ghana, Nigeria, and Malawi. Findings from the study are based on household-level data from two rounds of Ghana’s Living Standard Surveys (GLSS6 in 2012/13 and GLSS7 in 2016/17); and the two rounds of Nigeria’s General Household Surveys (GHS-Panel) in 2010/2011 (GHS-Panel 1) and 2015/2016 (GHS-Panel 3).

April 19, 2022


Women and youth in rice and sunflower commercialisation in Tanzania: Inclusiveness, returns on household labour and poverty reduction


Over the last two decades, the Government of Tanzania, in collaboration with development agencies, has been supporting rice and sunflower commercialisation to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty among actors in these value chains. At the same time, the support has aimed to ensure sustainable commercialisation and involvement of women and youth in the commercialisation process. Despite these efforts, women and youths’ involvement in the rice and sunflower commercialisation process is constrained – likely because of a lack of land and financial capital. Land access problems among women a