Africa smallholder farming by Joseph Wambugu
Aerial view of Gatero farms (my rural home). Google Earth image by Joseph W.

Small farm sizes is the worst problem of smallholder farming

Does the size of land really matter for small scale farmers? A few days ago, I had a conversation with a colleague on how to demystify the potential of our motherland, Africa.

We dived into analyzing the reality that 60% of the world’s uncultivated land is in Africa. How accurate is this estimation? Is it that this land is completely uncultivated or somehow underutilized? Where is this land located in Kenya for instance? We exchanged a lot of ideas while trying to answer these questions. We both learned a lot from each other.

Most interestingly, we unearthed a reality that is rarely spoken about regarding Africa’s uncultivated land. Did you know that close to 8% of Africa’s arable land could be occupied with live fences?
In my rural home, it appears to me that the average size of household land is 1 hectare or slightly less. FOA estimates it at 0.5 ha for Kenya on average. To mark land boundaries, every household usually plants a live fence around their farm.
In most cases, trees or shrubs are used as a live fence. If not regularly trimmed, live fences grow wild and can occupy a space of up to 2 meters of width. 

Smallholder farms surrounded with live fence: Internet photo 

Mathematically, if a 5 hectares piece of land is subdivided into 5 portions of 1 hectare each which are surrounded by a live fence, 0.078 hectares (7.8% of 5 ha) would be occupied with the living fence.
If we extrapolate this percentage to Kenya’s 6 million hectares of arable land, you will realize that 468,000 Ha of the arable land could be occupied with live fences. As land subdivision continues to rise, the loss of land could become more significant as days go by.
Do you still think smallholder farming will be the game-changer in the economies of Africa? Food for thought.

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