Commercial agriculture: tips

Friday, June 02, 2017

The importance of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa cannot be underestimated. Over 70% of the arable land is under smallholder agriculture. The sector employs more than 70% of the workforce, and is the primary source of income for rural populations. It contributes significantly to foreign exchange earnings and accounts for more than 35% of national gross domestic product.

It is therefore important that smallholder farmers are supported to modernise their operations in order to grow viable business enterprises that can generate enough income to sustain the needs of their households. Linking farmers to the market should be a priority for any agricultural programme that aims at poverty reduction.

Initiatives to develop market linkages for smallholder agricultural production have faced a number of challenges. Smallholder farmers are typically poor and practice low input agriculture, not by choice but due to poverty. This results to low productivity and production. Big buyers find it problematic to deal with this category of farmers due to inconsistency and unpredictability of supply. Encouraging farmers to organise into viable producer groups could provide some solutions to these challenges. It is therefore important to build capacity in group governance as well as transparency for group leadership, so that they can effectively manage and administer the groups’ affairs.

Other challenges to market linkages include:

Transport infrastructure: Poor transport infrastructure makes marketing of agriculture produce uneconomical. Most productive areas are remote and not well connected to the main market hubs. Transport to and from these areas is very expensive for transporters as they have to take wear and tear costs into consideration. Governments can accelerate development of smallholder commercial agriculture production by upgrading feeder roads.

Lack of market information: Due to the scattered and unorganised nature of smallholder agriculture and lack of communication tools, most farmers are ignorant of potential markets. They rely on extension workers, where they exist; otherwise it is by word of mouth, which in most cases the information is distorted or inaccurate. It is therefore important that a good information system is developed for smallholder farmers so that they can make informed decisions for their enterprises.

Climate change: Climate change poses a big threat to agricultural production, more so for smallholder agriculture, which is mostly dependent on rainfall. Changing rainfall patterns is a challenge to consistent production and productivity. Any interventions that will mitigate the impact of climate change on agricultural production should be mainstreamed in any initiative that promotes commercialisation of smallholder agriculture.

As an emphasis, it is crucial that smallholder farmers are supported to modernise their operations in order to grow viable business enterprises that can generate enough income to sustain the needs of their households. 

Guest editorial

“Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.”

Samuel Johnson