DECEMBER 14, 2013
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About the Author:
Peter Hazell trained as an agriculturalist in England before completing his PhD in Agricultural Economics at Cornell University and a postdoctoral assignment at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. From 1972 to 2005, he held various research positions at the World Bank and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), including serving as Director of the Environment and Production Technology division (1992–2003) and the Development Strategy and Governance division (2003–2005) at IFPRI. After returning to the UK in 2005, he became a Visiting Professor at Imperial College London and a Professorial Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Peter’s extensive and widely cited publications include works on mathematical programming; risk management; insurance; the impact of technological change on growth and poverty; the rural nonfarm economy; sustainable development strategies for marginal lands; the role of agriculture in economic development; and the future of small farms. Peter has worked throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Central America.
Is Small Farm Led Development Still a Relevant Strategy for Africa and Asia?
Although there is a lot of country and regional variation, the overwhelming story across much of Africa and Asia is one of more small farms, shrinking farm sizes and increased income diversification. Despite growth, sometimes quite rapid growth, in national per capita incomes, there is little sign yet of a shift to the patterns of farm consolidation and matching levels of rural-urban migration that occurred during the economic transformation of today’s industrialized countries. Rather, relatively few workers are leaving their farms for the cities and instead are diversifying into nonfarm activity from a small farm base. In some countries even the total agricultural land area is becoming more concentrated among small farms, and it is the large farms that are being squeezed out.
This “reverse”farm transition is creating new tensions and potential tradeoffs between important economic, social and environmental goals. During the green revolution era, small farm growth was seen as a winning proposition for growth, poverty alleviation and food security outcomes, and concern focused largely on adverse environmental outcomes. This is now changing and the future outlook is for less complementary outcomes at national scales between growth, poverty alleviation and food security goals, posing more difficult choices for policy makers. There can be no pretense that all of today’s small farms (some 500 million less than 2 ha in size) have viable futures in farming, and in many cases the appropriate emphasis should be on providing assistance in diversifying into a non-farm business or off farm employment, or leaving farming altogether. However, despite pessimism in recent years about the future of small farms, small farms situations are actually very diverse, and there are plenty of viable business opportunities for many to exploit if they receive the rights kinds of assistance.
The contemporary literature distinguishes between small and non-small farms, between men and women farmers, and between poor and non-poor farms, but without recognizing that for targeting purposes there may be more relevant variation within these groupings than between them. Particularly relevant here is a growing literature showing that farms are becoming more widely differentiated by size and livelihood strategy, and by market forces and locational factors that have an important bearing on their prospects as farmers, and hence the kinds of support they need. There has also been a widening gap between farming opportunities in dynamic regions and more stagnant or lagging regions. This has created a more diverse and polarized set of smallholder farming situations which needs to be considered when targeting agricultural investments. This is especially important when the objective is to help more small farms become successful and profitable farm businesses.
Further research is needed to develop and test the relevance of smallholder typologies, and to assess the most effective forms of agricultural interventions for each type of smallholder. This should also include analysis of the best ways to integrate agricultural interventions with complementary policies and investments, such as safety nets and assistance with migration and off-farm diversification. Another challenge is developing practical ways of identifying the different groups on the ground. There has been a lot of recent work using GIS and spatial analysis methods to identify target areas for rural development purposes. Most of this work focuses on mapping different regions in terms of their agro-ecology, market access, and rural population density, but so far there has been limited work on disaggregating further according to differences in farmer endowments, market orientation and gender.
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