Improving smallholder productivity in Africa: Smallholder productivity is low in Africa, but there are a number of ways in which government and the private sector can help to improve it.

Author:Pokhriyal, Ravi

With over 470m smallholder farmers producing almost 70% of total food consumed, Africa still faces lagging productivity growth over time. The gap between small farmers' yields and technical potential yields, which are achieved with the latest varieties and under best conditions, are reflected in the large suboptimal use of inputs and insufficient adoption of the most productive technologies.

African smallholders struggle to match the productivity levels of commercial or large-scale farmers. A smallholder palm planter in Cote d'Ivoire gets around 5-6 tonnes/Ha, while in Nigeria this can be low as 2-3 tonnes/Ha. This contrasts with the 1516 tonnes/Ha achieved by commercialised plantations in the same region. Across crops and regions, it has been observed that well managed commercial farms or plantations have delivered between 50 and 200% more than the smallholders. This is ascribed to the lack of quality farm inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and agro chemicals; lack of farm mechanisation and the lack of irrigation infrastructure and thus dependence on rain-fed agriculture. Irrigated areas as a share of total cultivated area are estimated at only 6% for Africa, compared with 37% for Asia.

Inadequate access to markets and price volatility are also issues that smallholders are faced with. This is due to a significant number of smallholders being heavily dependent on the middle man to gain access to such markets. As they lack the capacity and access to markets, they are forced to sell during glut or peak seasons. Most of the time they resort to selling at the bottom of the price cycle, while the middle man makes most of the upsides by hoarding or selling during the off-season.

In addition, climate change and weather risk have contributed to challenges faced by smallholders. Climate variability is expected to impact many major crops, cutting productivity in key food crops like irrigated rice by as much as 27%, rainfed wheat by 25%, and rainfed maize by 15%. The main reason is that changing weather patterns reduce response time for agricultural activities like land preparation, application of fertiliser and chemicals and harvesting. For instance, to prepare a hectare of land takes approximately 20 days if done manually, two days if done with a pair of cattle and a plough and two hours if done with a tractor. With smaller holdings and lack of access to finance, the smallholder is the most affected by this.

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Another challenge is...

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