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Anti-peasant model of agricultural development. Can it work?

Africa smallholder farming by Joseph Wambugu
Photo of Joseph Wambugu

Peasantry farming versus capitalist farming

My previous article that highlighted some complexities surrounding smallholder farming attracted a lot of reactions and feedback. While most people appreciate the important role of small farmers in feeding the nation, many were not convinced that smallholder farming can be the turning point for Africa’s economies.  Actually, some well-known thought-leaders were categorical that smallholder farming is the cause of our poverty. 

This feedback is enough evidence that the complexities caused by smallholdings are a hard puzzle that has put our agricultural growth at standstill. 

It cannot be overemphasized that agricultural development is seen as an antecedent to industrial development. Most countries that have achieved a solid economic development path had to get their agriculture right. Methinks, getting agriculture right is a sure ticket to industrialization since increased agricultural productivity can meet and sustain factory needs in terms of supply of raw materials. With the current smallholder model, a sustainable supply of raw materials could be very difficult due to the inconsistencies among the millions of farmers, such as unsynchronized seasons, varying quality of produce, etc.
As I had said earlier, if radical strategies are not put in place to revitalize agriculture, the status quo will prevail. We are at a point where we need to ask ourselves the HARDEST questions.
Looking at the history of other countries, we learn that the land enclosure system in Great Britain was a major turning point for their agricultural revolution.  The land enclosure was a process that took place between the 16-18th century. It was a large-scale land reform that led to the privatization of common/community land and consolidation of a number of smallholdings to form one large farm. This was a slow and long process that took over two centuries. The process faced a great deal of popular resistance, but in the end, it proved to be a major breakthrough point in the country’s economic development. Today, the average size of land in the UK in 83 Ha.

In France, I read that, back in the 14th century, most of the land was 10 Ha or less. Many land reforms over the centuries have culminated into an average farmland of 56 Ha today.
This is just history. Nevertheless, it is said that you can never make history if you don’t know history. Africa needs to learn from those who went ahead of us. Smallholding seems not to be the way. Developed economies adopted different strategies to put in place large-scale farmlands that they have today. 

In Africa too, we are testing various large-scale farming approaches. From contract farming, outgrowing, and aggregations. All these strategies attempt to streamline supply chains to achieve economies of scale in inputs and market access, without addressing the issue of land consolidation. The main challenge facing these strategies is that, for them to constitute a significant and stable supply chain, they have to coordinate cooperation between hundreds or thousands of farmers. How complex is that? 
I am not sure whether we can overcome these complexities. But one clear thing is that,  without consolidating the small strips of land to create one large farm,  our farmers may never live to experience the efficiency, convenience, and beauty of agricultural technology, for example, the 40-row precision planter. Technology efficiency is best experienced in large farms. 
Anyway, I am just thinking out loud.
Do you think eliminating smallholder farming could be more impactful than dealing with the complexities involved in running small farms?

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