Small-scale farmers v/s large-scale farmers: Which way should we go?


In the recent past, the agricultural circles have been rife with the debate as to whether we should switch our focus from small-scale farmers to helping the large-scale farmers. It is said that the green revolution focusing on small farms is no longer a winning proposition for economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security outcomes that it was initially considered to be – wrote Peter Hazell, a renowned development economist.

In the same context, according to one of the speakers at the just concluded Fin4Ag conference in Nairobi, “…for a long time now, we have been talking a lot about empowering the peasant farmers and alleviating poverty but despite all the efforts and resources, we seem to have stagnated. Correct me if I am wrong, and I hope I am.”

“It is time we focus on the large scale farmers and advise the small farmers to engage in other economic activities.”, he continued.

And so, the million dollar question begs; should development strategies switch to large farms?

If the speaker was right, what is the reason behind the sustained status quo? Is it the manner in which the resources are being used or is it that the resources are insufficient? Or is it that small farmers were never meant to exist? I don’t know but maybe it would be useful to understand the philosophy behind empowering the smallholder farmers.

Agriculture is the mainstay for most of the African states and majority of people directly depend on it. 92.7% of all African farms are small family farms – this group is also the most vulnerable to the pangs of hunger and other calamities than their large-scale counterparts who have access to necessary technologies, services and even market for their produce including the power to control their selling prices.

Lest it is forgotten, farming has been considered an option only for the poor who lacked alternative economic activities – it is only until recently that efforts have been channeled towards promoting and encouraging people to view agriculture as a viable employment opportunity like any other.

Across developing countries, the number of small farms is increasing and given the raging debate, what is your take? Do you think focusing on large-scale farmers will ensure economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security for the developing countries? Does the large-scale farmers need assistance? And what alternative economic activities will the small-scale farmers take up once support is cut off in favour of the large-scale farmers?

The small farmers have limited options in terms of what they can do to earn their bread and butter and have a myriad of challenges to deal with. They therefore need our support more than the rich farmers and if it’s not working, we’d rather rethink the manner in which help is being provided to them than abandoning them for the large scale farmers who do not really need support. To our speaker at the Fin4Ag conference, in my opinion, you are wrong just like you hoped.

Photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Blogpost by Elcah Barasa, Social Reporter for the Fin4Ag Conference.

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