Project overview: Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development

Roadside market

This project seeks to build awareness of the relationship between farm and non-farm activities in rural economies, focusing on three countries in Southern Africa.

Agricultural development is key to food security and poverty reduction in much of the developing world, including Sub-Saharan Africa. However agriculture is only likely to contribute to sustainable and intensive growth if productivity gains on the ground are matched by growth in non-farm employment.

Rural dwellers are unable to benefit from agricultural development if they are landless, uninvolved in agricultural production, and as they are increasingly displaced by agricultural development.

Therefore rural non-farm employment – linking non-farm employment and agricultural development – plays a vital role in ensuring broad-based, inclusive and sustainable growth.  Despite this, the impact of different patterns of agricultural growth on rural livelihoods and poverty are often poorly understood.  Furthermore, supporting non-farm employment is often neither an explicit nor a prominent concern of much agricultural policy.

This project aims to examine the institutional and spatial articulation of markets, settlements and employment in three Southern African countries, to create a clearer picture of how agriculture can support a diverse local economics and broad based economic growth. The project findings will be carefully disseminated and workshopped with relevant groups of stakeholders.

Research focus

The project will investigate the spatial and institutional links between agricultural development and non-farm employment in rural sites in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The project aims to

  1. capture data about the spatial, economic and institutional links that connect agricultural development and non-farm employment, including the implications for employment, poverty, vulnerability and food security.
  2. build an understanding of farm and non-farm livelihoods, by paying attention to the organisation of markets, and functioning of agro-food value chains.
  3. understand what kinds of agricultural development (scale, capital intensity, value chain governance, local political and administrative institutions) best support inclusive and employment intensive economic growth.
  4. develop innovative research methodologies for capturing and mapping the links between agricultural and non-farm employment


warehouseThe study will draw on both qualitative and quantitative inquiry and develop new methodological tools.  It will focus on carefully mapping actual resource flows between economic actors, and ‘following the money’, the upstream and downstream resource flows that link households and enterprise to each other.  This will enable the research to develop a ‘map’ of social and economic networks, analysed using software for mapping social networks.

In an inversion of the usual relationship between qualitative and quantitative inquiry, the second phase of the study will consist of a survey conducted within the initially studied households and enterprises, in order to measure impacts on employment, incomes and food security.

Project aims and audiences

The project aims to increase the awareness and understanding of agricultural development policymakers about the importance of non-farm employment for rural development. By highlighting the differential impacts on non-farm employment of various agricultural development paths, the study aims to put broad-based and employment-rich growth at the centre of the agricultural development agenda.

The study will to contribute to that agenda by highlighting the central role of the spatial organisation of links, networks and institutions in shaping the employment character of the rural non-farm economy.

The study will do this by helping identify guidelines (relating to the mix of farm scales, patterns of spatial integration and the design of planning frameworks) that can promote employment-rich growth in rural areas, so as to enable policymakers and planners (both at high level policy and those officials tasked with in implementation) to find practical answers to rural development challenges.

The project will engage with end-users and policy makers in government, regional bodies, donor agencies and other implementing and policy making bodies to explore and disseminate the implications of the research findings.

Research Team

  • Prof Andries Du Toit (PLAAS) is the Principal Investigator (PI).
  • Dr Ian Scoones (based Institute for Development Studies in Sussex, UK) and Prof Ben Cousins are the co-PIs.
  • David Neves (dneves@plaas.org.za) is the overall project manger at PLAAS, and heads up the South African team.
  • Dr Ephraim Chirwa (based at the University of Malawi), and Dr Chrispen Sukume (Zimbabwe) will head up their respective country based work.