Farmer investors are not a homogenous group and it is unhelpful to think of them as such. Understanding patterns and changes in farm size and structure is important when looking at who is investing and who might invest in the future. There is growing interest in a ‘category’ of farmers sometimes known as ‘emerging farmers’ or ‘investor farmers’ who typically have more than 5 but less than 100 hectares. Some studies point to a significant increase in numbers of emergent investor farms over the past couple of decades (Jayne et al 2016) and are highlighting the need to understand more about this group of farmers and their impacts on the system.
Land re-structuring as well as market changes and new opportunities have provided incentives for these domestic investors, many of whom are urban-based, to become medium-scale farmers. They have the capital to invest, along with contacts and other resources to establish farming businesses that are integrated into markets. There seems to be little evidence of small-scale farmers with less than 2 ha being able to grow the size of their farms and make these kinds of investments. In some cases, farmers with more than 2 hectares have been able to expand, but they are relatively few. The exceptions to this may be related to locational factors such as in Northern Ghana where investor farmers do seem to have come from natural expansion.
Current data reveals that these medium-scale farms account for 20% of total farmland in Kenya, 32% in Ghana, and over 50% in Zambia (Jayne et al 2016). Other studies in Zambia, Malawi and Kenya demonstrate that these medium-scale farmers are 60% urban-based, and 35% rural-based elites, with only 5% resulting from smallholders scaling up their operations (Muyunga 2013; Jayne et al. 2014; Sitko and Jayne 2014). Most of these farms have been financed through non-farm activities, and these farmers tend to well-educated, and employed with the government. The data reveals that while the proportion of smallholder farmers scaling up is small, favourable access to land and assets provides room for commercialization and scaling up (Chapoto et al. 2013).