Research Papers

The Research Paper series reports findings to the research community. It is intended to contribute new analysis to agricultural issues in Africa and FAC publishes five to ten Research papers annually.

Latest articles

APRA Outcome Indicators Paper
July 30, 2018 / Research Papers

Much of the debate about agricultural commercialisation offers simplistic, dichotomous comparisons between, for example, large and small-scale farming, or export-oriented and domestic markets. There is often an assumption that there is one ideal type of commercialisation that can be realised through investment and policy intervention. Yet in practice, there are diverse ways that different people engage with processes of agricultural commercialisation along value chains, from production to processing to marketing. This range of pathways will have both risks and benefits for different groups of people, often differentiated by gender. Our research will examine the consequences of different types of commercialisation, contrasting, for example, smallholder, contract farming and large-estate arrangements, and pathways of commercialisation, examining commercialisation over time and the outcomes for different people. A comparative research design, across six countries and between different cropping/livestock systems, will enable the APRA Programme to draw out wider recommendations that will help inform and guide investment and policy decisions around agricultural commercialisation in Africa into the future. In practical research terms, the agenda described above requires that a range of indicators are specified in relation to our five main outcome areas. This document compiles five separate papers, each one reviewing the established literature on a specific outcome area and then providing a justification for the proposed indicators to be applied in the APRA studies. Access the full paper via the link below:

APRA Outcome Indicators Paper

Uganda’s Dilemmas in the Transition to Modern Commercial Agriculture: Implications for the Poverty Reduction Agenda
March 26, 2015 / Research Papers

Leocardia Nabwire
February 2015

This paper draws on field data from farming households in Kabale and Kisoro districts of Uganda and early findings from monitoring the implementation of the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) and the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy and Investment Plan (DSIP) to investigate: (1) whether Uganda’s agricultural modernisation strategies constitute the right mechanism and target of transforming smallholder subsistence agriculture into highly productive commercial farming; and (2) whether the generation and promotion of modern farm inputs pursued is sufficient to increase household farm output and incomes, or whether there is need for more rigorous market/economic incentives.

Several key findings emanate from this study. First, the overall logic of agricultural modernisation as laid out in the PMA/DSIP (increase household farm output and income) still holds, but there are weaknesses within the implementation process, with most of the pillars that seek to address agricultural marketing problems not being visible on the ground. Overall, progress in generating and promoting knowledge on modern farm inputs (hybrid seed, fertiliser and pesticide) is good. However, smallholder farmers lag behind in the adoption of these inputs despite the high demand for them. The low adoption levels of these inputs coupled with low literacy levels, small land sizes, low asset endowments and low access to credit limit the capacity of smallholder subsistence farmers to produce surplus for the market.

Second, results on market participation show that smallholder farmers have significantly lower production volumes and lower market participation. Yet households that had higher total crop output also had considerable market surplus and reported greater market participation. These results point to the strong relationship between output level, market participation and exiting poverty, and indicate the role that access to productive assets, which improve a household’s capacity to produce marketable surplus, can play in poverty reduction. Chief among this paper’s recommendations is the need to mainstream input and output marketing issues within all intervention areas and the development of more differentiated strategies according to target groups.

This paper was produced with support from the Early Career Fellowship Programme.

The Role of Indigenous Gums and Resins in Pastoralists’ Livelihood Security and Climate Change…
April 15, 2014 / Research Papers

Full title: The Role of Indigenous Gums and Resins in Pastoralists’ Livelihood Security and Climate Change Adaptation in Garba Tula Area of Northern Kenya

Yasin Mahadi S. Salah
February 2014

The current study investigates the role of indigenous gums and resins in pastoralists’ livelihood security and climate change adaptation in Garba Tula area of northern Kenya. The communities in the area are heavily dependent on natural resources which are influenced by prevailing climatic conditions. In recent years droughts have increased in frequency and magnitude, constraining the livestock sector which is the mainstay of the pastoral communities in Garba Tula. Due to dwindling income from the livestock sector as a result of drought, community members are exploring complementary and alternative livelihoods to survive. One of the activities that has taken precedence in filling the gap in Garba Tula is exploitation of the abundant gums and resins found in the area. This study asks to what extent income from livestock is diversified or complemented by other livelihood strategies, in particular activities that act as climate change adaptation mechanisms.

This paper was produced with support from the Early Career Fellowship Programme.

An investigation into the marginalisation of adolescent girls from the agrarian structure…
April 15, 2014 / Research Papers

Full title: An investigation into the marginalisation of adolescent girls from the agrarian structure and its impacts on their livelihoods in Africa: Experiences from Zimbabwe

Manase Kudzai Chiweshe
February 2014

The paper provides a nuanced and grounded understanding of how young girls relate to agriculture with special emphasis on land ownership, labour, participation in agricultural policy making. In particular, it questions how agriculture can enhance young women’s empowerment. It is based on research carried out in five districts across Zimbabwe. The study was initially a qualitative inquiry in Mazowe concentrating on in depth interviews, focus group discussions and life histories of adolescent girls. In the process of finishing this fieldwork there was an opportunity to increase the scope of the study to include four other districts across Zimbabwe. The research was done under the auspices of Ruzivo Trust from December 2012 to January 2013. This included a quantitative survey and qualitative case studies with adolescent youths in Gokwe South, Chimanimani and Goromonzi.

This paper was produced with support from the Early Career Fellowship Programme.

Market Structure and Price: An empirical analysis of Irish potato markets in Kenya
April 15, 2014 / Research Papers

Nancy M. Laibuni and John M. Omiti
February 2014

In many developing countries, Kenya included, food markets are characterised by information asymmetry, inadequate storage and transport infrastructure and weak physical and institutional market organisation. This study seeks to examine recent trends in domestic Irish potato prices in the production markets of Nakuru and Eldoret and the consumption markets of Nairobi and Mombasa, and investigate the relationship between market structure and price of Irish potato in the different markets. Monthly market data from January 1998 to May 2011 is used. The results show that there is a general rise in the price of potatoes. The farm-gate share of wholesale market prices for ware (fresh) potato increased in Nakuru and Eldoret to 52 percent in 2010 from 35 percent in 2009. These percentage shares suggest that there exist large marketing margins that are accrued by middlemen and brokers. Potato markets are oligopolistic in nature; a few market participants in the form of rural brokers, urban brokers and transporters have the market power. There are barriers to entry at the urban market centres where brokers provide the link between wholesalers and retailers. In many cases, brokers and transporters determine the market price for each potato consignment. The markets are integrated and price transmission does occur; however it is incomplete, the results showed that long run price transmission proportions range between 25 and 59 percent, implying that, the spatial arbitrage conditions are wanting in the markets that were examined. Proposed interventions include facilitation and up-scaling of market information sharing; investment in physical infrastructure (including storage and roads) to facilitate trade; and provision of incentives to encourage public-private partnerships in storage, distribution and marketing. From a policy perspective, efforts should be made to facilitate arbitrage through the improvement of storage and physical market infrastructure.

This paper was produced with support from the Early Career Fellowship Programme.

An integrated approach towards moderating the effects of climate change on agriculture: A policy…
April 15, 2014 / Research Papers

Full title: An integrated approach towards moderating the effects of climate change on agriculture: A policy perspective for Zimbabwe

Denboy Kudejira
February 2014

This study was undertaken to provide a succinct assessment of the linkages between agricultural policy reform in Zimbabwe and the challenges that climate change poses to smallholder farmers in the country. The study is motivated by a lack of analysis of how post-independence agrarian reform processes in Zimbabwe may affect adaptation to climate change in the agricultural sector. The key driving factor behind land redistribution has largely been to enhance equity in the ownership of arable land. So far there has been less focus on assisting beneficiary farmers to adapt to climate change, which is increasingly becoming a reality and further aggravating the stresses already associated with smallholder production, including small farm sizes, informal land tenure, poorly developed infrastructure and unpredictable and uneven exposure to markets. The paper reveals that while the current status of land reforms has enabled previously disadvantaged peasants to acquire land, smallholders still face production challenges such as tenure insecurity, inadequate technical support, poorly developed infrastructure, limited access to markets and the effects of HIV/AIDS. These factors also remain key concerns for farmers in the face of the risks posed by climate change. The study found that smallholder farmers would benefit from climate change adaptation goals that focus on irrigation development, appropriate soil and water conservation technologies and sustainable utilisation of forest resources. While the government has been investing heavily in input support to smallholder famers, this paper argues for a more systemic targeting in resource allocation which is anchored on crop diversification in response to productivity trends across the agro-ecological zones of the country. A ‘market-oriented’ climate change adaptation approach which guarantees high returns to farmers who grow adaptable crop varieties like small grains should be considered, rather than the current situation where emphasis is put on cash crops like cotton and tobacco. Finally, the paper suggests a multi-sectoral and inter-disciplinary approach that involves government ministries, community based organisations, the private sector and other non-state actors. This would ensure a holistic approach in achieving climate change adaptation policy goals, and also help address other socio-economic challenges that smallholder farmers currently face.

This paper was produced with support from the Early Career Fellowship Programme.

Transnational Large Scale Agricultural Firms in Gambella Regional State, Ethiopia
April 15, 2014 / Research Papers

Full title: Transnational Large Scale Agricultural Firms in Gambella Regional State, Ethiopia: Local Potentials, Opportunities and Constraints for Market Linkage and Contractual Farming Schemes

Adil Yassin
January 2014

Even though Transnational Corporations (TNCs) yield a huge potential in supporting the local economy, this opportunity is not realised yet. Concerns on weak market linkage with TNCs are not keenly explored in the literature, if weak linkages result from TNCs failure to utilise local market opportunities or if it is associated with weak local capacity with regard to labour availability, institutional capacity, market demand, and legal support. This study, based on annual import data, discovered that that there is potential demand for TNCs’ products (particularly rice, palm oil, maize, sugar and wheat) to establish forward linkage. Hence, high foreign currency expenditure might be cut, if imports can be substituted by TNCs supply to local market. The government, however, seems to focus on acquiring foreign currency more than reducing its expenditure through local transaction with TNCs. On the other hand, local economy’s capacity in providing inputs for TNCs is weak indicating challenge in backward linkage. Since the introduction of TNCs in Gambella, five years down the line, the most dominant and visible linkage happened in the form of labour [unskilled] employment. The volume of jobs created is insignificant compared to other countries’ standards. Thus far, due to the poor performance of TNCs, government’s expectation of employment generation, infrastructure development, market linkage and foreign currency acquisition are not realised adequately; as a result, it has regarded them as ‘failed’ projects. An absence of linkages with the local economy may lead to enclave development in the near future where there is limited market or economic benefit. Contract Farming (CF), if managed well, can be a viable means to enhance linkage with the local economy. However, there are considerable challenges to establish and facilitate CF in the Gambella region. Undefined land tenure system in the region, less government emphasis on CF in low land areas, TNCs business interest and financial problems, quality of farmers products and lack of modern inputs, and limited experience in CF, among others, are the main current and future challenges. It is concluded that weak linkage happens from both corners due to: lack of TNCs realisation and interest of local potentials and inadequate local capabilities.

This paper was produced with support from the Early Career Fellowship Programme.

Leaping and Learning case studies
September 17, 2013 / Research Papers

This set of 41 case studies accompanies the Leaping and Learning research report.



Leaping and learning: linking smallholders to markets
September 17, 2013 / Research Papers

Agriculture for Impact research report
by Steve Wiggins and Sharada Keats
May 2013

This report provides a comprehensive review of the existing literature on smallholder-centred market-based interventions.

Smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa number around 33 million, represent 80% of all farms in the region, and contribute up to 90% of food production in some sub-Saharan African countries. Developing smallholder agriculture can be effective in reducing poverty and hunger in low income countries, but only through sustainable access to markets can poor farmers increase the income from their labour and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Most poor farmers are not linked to markets for a variety of reasons: remoteness, low production, low farm-gate prices, and lack of information, to name a few. Addressing and overcoming these market failures in order to increase smallholder farmers’ access to markets was the subject of this research project.

In short, the project aimed to answer the question:

how can smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa use a combination of agricultural growth and links to markets to raise their incomes and reduce poverty and hunger?

What follows is a summary of the considerations, conclusions and recommendations that resulted from the synthesis and exploration of existing material, case studies and workshops.

Small farm commercialisation in Africa: Reviewing the issues
May 16, 2012 / Research Papers

FAC Research Paper 23
by Steve Wiggins, Gem Argwings-Kodhek, Jennifer Leavy & Colin Poulton

Small farmers in Africa have long been engaged with markets. Whenever villages have been connected to urban or overseas markets, smallholders have produced surpluses for them — at times prompting remarkable transformations in rural economies. The opportunities to engage with markets for small farmers are increasing — making questions that arise about smallholder commercialisation all the more important. This review looks at the debates, evidence and policy implications associated with these new opportunities.