E-dialogue Session 3: Regional Perspectives – Africa

Adebayo Aromoloran, Professor of Agric Economics and Dean of Faculty of Agriculture at the Adekunle Ajasin University in Nigeria

Globally more than 94 % of the farms are from small-scale (less than 5 hectares). This group, however, only covers 20 % of the global farmland and accounts for below 35 % of global food production.

Nevertheless, they provide the means of livelihood for over 85 % of people living in Africa’s rural areas. Hence they are key for food security, poverty reduction and employment.

Decades of investment failed to enable structural change and tackle the existing challenges.

  • Low access to inputs and investment capital
  • Low productivity
  • Low assimilation of technological advancement
  • High unit cost of production
  • Low response to policies
  • Low marketable surplus
  • Low level of market engagement

Adebayo raises two questions:

  1. Should small-scale farmers be empowered sustaining food security, poverty reduction and employment until 2030?? Yes
  2. Should Africa continue to rely on small -scale farming for food security, poverty reduction and employment after 2030? NO, because Africa must focus on medium-scale farming in the future.

Cyriaque Hakizimana, Researcher at Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, South Africa

The rural population of Africa is growing at least until 2040, despite ongoing urbanisation and other changes Africa’s rural areas are going through:

  • Growth of large-scale agriculture
  • Failure of land transfer
  • Large land pressure due to population growth
  • Competition of other sectors like mining that also exploit natural resources

Hence it must be asked: What will be the role of small-scale agriculture in this changing system?

Aida Isinika, Associate Professor at Sokoine University

Africa’s ecological diversity causes varying opportunities and constraints and thus, diversity of farmers.

Farmers mostly prefer to stay in agriculture and apply various strategies to reduce poverty.

  • More than half of the produced products are cash crops.
  • Farmers diversify by combining off-farm and on-farm activities.
  • Farmers produce highvalue crops in areas of land limitations and extend farm sizes when land is available.

Abdelbagi M. Ismail, Principal Scientist and IRRI Representative for Africa

Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa face several challenges but also there are good opportunities.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest risk of food insecurity
  • The region dependents highly on food imports, e.g. rice worth 6 billion dollars is imported each year.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has a rapid population growth.
  • 60 % of Africa’s population are dependent on small-scale farms with < 2ha.
  • Farmers are still the poorest group in Africas’ rural areas.

Several strategies are needed to combat these issues.

  • Sustainable productivity growth must be ensured to end hunger and poverty.
  • Small-scale farmers must be able to provide to themselves and the cumminity by producing sufficient quantities of food with competitive quality.
  • Market access must be guaranteed for inputs and outputs.

Martin Muchero, Independent Consultant

Martin looks at the topic from a policy perspective.

Small-scale farming is important but the food system is changing due to various factors:

  • Climate change
  • Macroeconomic conditions on food security in the regions
  • COVID increases these problems

Important questions:

What are the pathways these changes are impacting on smallholder farming?

What are the important issues that must be tackled from policies to promote and ensure small-scale farming?

  • Agro-ecology
  • Non-farm enterprise systems
  • Social inclusivity
  • Participation of smallholders in policy formation

Jemimah Njuki, Senior Programme Specialist IDRC

A sustainable agricultural sector is only possible if women and youth are empowered. To support them, it is important to not only categorise farms according to their size but also based on age, gender and labour sources as both groups are often overlooked. Women and youth usually lack access to capital and land.

Therefore, it is necessary to recognise and approach the following key points:

  1. Recognise how women are treated differently.
  2. Make policies more gender-responsive.
  3. The smallholder sector needs to work for and include everybody.


First discussion point: What changes are occurring in the importance of small-scale farming for poverty reduction, food production and nutrition across the region (also considering numbers of farms of different sizes < 1ha, 1-2ha, 2-5ha) – and what are the key drivers of those changes?

Abdelbagi M. Ismail:

The land sizes are small but productivity potential is far from being reached, which brings up multiple opportunities:

  • The productivity can still increase, e.g. of rice can be doubled.
  • Smallholders are getting more attention. Policymakers are more committed to supporting through logistics to improve the farmers’ economic situation.
  • Modern technologies can transform traditional farming into modern farming.
    • Small-scale mechanisation
    • Improved seed systems to replace old varieties
    • Provision of fertilisers and other inputs
    • Better post-harvest practices
  • Improved logistics at national and regional levels to open up markets for farmers.
  • Smallholder farmers are recognising the importance of scale and start organising themselves in farmer groups resulting in
    • Better bargaining power
    • Access to and exchange of knowledge
    • Improved access to credit

There are several key drivers of change:

  • Farmers realise that they must move from subsistence farming to commercialisation.
  • Modern technologies that allow more production and better quality
  • Government support
  • The need to rely more on local production to overcome crises like the food crises of 2007/2008 and the current pandemic

Adebayo Aromoloran:

A lot of these changes are rooted in the rural-urban migration. Farm-Family members leave the rural areas because of bad infrastructure. Those left behind  experience declining farm sizes because of several reasons:

  • Climatic changes
  • Conflicts
  • Competition from lower-cost imports
  • Increasing numbers of large-scale farms
  • Declining use of inputs due to dysfunctional credit-systems

Martin Muchero:

Policies must directly support the development of rural areas by supporting non-farm enterprises.

Second point of discussion: How are domestic and regional food markets changing across the region with what implications for the opportunities and constraints for different types of small-scale farms?

Cyriaque Hakizimana:

Two major trends are happening in Africa:

  1. Rapid growing urbanisation across the continent and the growing food demand in the cities will increase the value of the market from 313 billion $ in 2010 to 1 trillion $ in 2030.

This is an opportunity for smallholders. On the other hand, this attracts powerful foreign actors that threaten the livelihood of smallholders.

  1. The rapid growth of Africa’s middle class leads to a restructuring of the food markets: what is consumed and where to buy food? Growth of supermarkets in the big cities. This has major implications on how food is grown, sold and who is producing food (market standards must be met). This threatens the future of small-scale producers.

Jemimah Njuki:

There is an increased rural to urban connectivity through food imports but this brings up two critical issues.

  1. A huge number of rural people are food insecure as they are left behind. They must focus on cheap caloric food and miss out on nutritious food.
  2. Upcoming free trade agreements are a huge potential for smallholders to engage in new markets. However, this is more of an opportunity to rethink food systems entirely. To make use of this opportunity, tariff and non-tariff barriers must be overcome.

Martin Muchero:

In the past, value chains have been promoted as being a critical component of food security. COVID showed that in the Southern African region, local food for food trade became more important and that this is essential for resilience. Hence, we must focus on strengthening smallholder farming.

Third discussion point: How are the characteristics of farming households changing, e.g. farm income/profitability, landholding size, degree of off-farm income, gender roles, productivity) and how is this influencing their viability and role in food production?

Aida Isinika:

  • Rural food insecurity is increasing and that should be noted in policy intervention. In many areas, farmers are still net buyers of food.
  • Women lack behind in benefiting in the positive aspects of change. Commercialisation could increase the opportunity for women to be empowered.

Adebayo Aromolaran:

There is an increasing number of medium-scale farmers.

  • Small farms are transitioning into medium-size farms – stepping up
  • Growing numbers of investor farmers – stepping in

The behaviour of smallholders is influenced by interaction with medium-scale farmers resulting in:

  • better cropping practices
  • input use
  • market engagement
  • Smallholder become more economically viable

Comparative figures of small scale farms who remained small scale with those who transitioned to medium-scale and demonstrates that stepping up improves the economic viability of small scale farms.


Small scale farms who remained  small scale

Small scale farms who transitioned to medium scale

Agriculture as the main source of income

99 %


Land leasing

11 %

32 %

Title to land

1.1 %


The average value of farm assets (‘000 naira)



Source: APRA Nigeria Field Survey, 2018

Fourth discussion point: How are the gender and youth dimensions of small-scale farming changing, with what implications for equality and empowerment?

Jemimah Njuki:

Youth dimension:

  • More young people get engaged in agriculture
  • Young people are more technology experienced, hence have better access to markets.

Anyway, the markets must adapt to young people and not the other way around.

Gender dimension:

  • Women need farm training.
  • Women need improved access to markets and input.
  • Women need to be empowered as business personalities and leaders.
  • Women must be involved in more decision-making

Cyriaque Hakizimana:

Africa is a youthful continent with many unemployed young people.

Some barriers hinder the absorption of young people by the agricultural sector of these young workers.

Young people have limited access to capital, labour and land as they are not credit-worthy and need to wait a long time to inherit land from their parents.

Wrap-up and key reflections

What policies must be put in place to improve the future of small-scale farmers?

Aida Isinika:

Consistent policies must enable access to markets as well as technologies while being inclusive, especially for women and the youth.

Abdelbagi M. Ismail:

Policies must tackle the following key points:

  • Policies must support sustained access to markets to encourage an increase in productivity.
  • Protect farmers against poverty exploitation, for example, by introducing a minimum farm gate price, and crop insurance against climate disturbances and pests and diseases.
  • Policies that encourage engaging the private sector and youth groups to mechanise agriculture and facilitate access to inputs and services.
  • Reform old agricultural policies to fast-track implementation of new technologies.
  • The whole value chain of agricultural products must be empowered.
  • Lastly, policies need to support the engagement of youth into farming as their future livelihood.

Adebayo Aromoloran:

Decades of huge direct investments in small-scale agriculture failed. Hence, Adebayo promotes pushing medium-scale farms to trigger a trickle-down effect that drives transformation through valuable interactions.

Cyriaque Hakizimana

Policy intervention should always connect to and target the sizeable young generation in Africa.

Martin Muchero:

Policies should support the overall rural development by supporting surrounding industries in rural areas.

Jemimah Njuki:

Small-scale farming must be more inclusive for the youth and women. They must be empowered and included in the decision-making process – the system needs to change, not the women or the youth.