By Noshua Watson
Why do African farmers have to scale up to participate in global markets? Can’t scale be provided elsewhere in the value chain?
The current debate about food production seems to be whether African farmers need to be big or small to be efficient. I think that the point of John Humphrey’s recent blog post and Dirk Willenbockel’s response (and pointer to a summary of the debate) is that farmers don’t have to be big themselves, they just have to be part of something big.
As Steve Wiggins wrote for the Future Agricultures Consortium, “... let’s get the economies of scale where they are needed: in the supply chains, in processing, transport and marketing – where lumpy investments and sophisticated know-how count. But let’s leave the farming to the local experts, the family farmers, who have all the incentives to work hard and carefully.”
The Future Agricultures Consortium recently hosted a conference on land grabbing that examined how the social consequences of commercial land concentration threatens rural communities. To avoid this, Olam International seems to make an effort to reach out to small farmers and use hybrid models of large-scale and small-scale farming.
But even if farmers can produce specialised products, get market updates by mobile phone and have decent roads to transport their goods, price volatility leaves small farmers quivering at the tail of the supply chain.