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The Rise of Medium-Scale Farms in Africa: Causes and Consequences of Changing Farm Size Distributions

Venue: PLAAS Boardroom
Date: 7 Dec 2017
13:00 to 14:00

Presenter: Prof Thomas Jayne, University Foundation Professor, Co-Director Alliance for African Partnership at Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, Michigan State University

This presentation highlights the causes and consequences of changing farm size distributions in sub-Saharan Africa. Medium- and large-scale farms account for a rising share of total farmland, especially in the 5 to 100 hectare range. Medium-scale farms control roughly 20% of total farmland in Kenya, 32% in Ghana, 43% in Tanzania, and over 50% in Zambia. The rapid rise of medium-scale holdings in most cases reflects increased interest in land by urban-based professionals or influential rural people. The rise of medium-scale farms is affecting the region in diverse ways that are difficult to generalize. Many such farms are a source of dynamism, technical change and commercialization of African agriculture. Evidence shows that the rise of bigger farms is encouraging new entry and investment by large-scale traders and promoting small-scale farmers’ access to mechanization rental services. However, medium-scale land acquisitions are exacerbating land scarcity in some areas, potentially contributing to rising land prices and the exit of youth from farming. Medium-scale farmers tend to dominate farm lobby groups and influence agricultural policies and public expenditures to agriculture in their favor. Nationally representative Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data from six countries show that urban households own between 8% and 35% of total agricultural land and that this share is rising in all countries where two or more DHS surveys warrant comparisons over time. This suggests a new and hitherto unrecognized channel by which medium-scale farmers may be altering the strength and location of agricultural growth and employment multipliers between rural and urban areas. Given current trends, medium-scale farms will soon become the dominant scale of farming in many African countries.

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