Africa’s Changing Farm Structure and Employment Challenge


April 1, 2014 - Thomas S. Jayne, Antony Chapoto, Nicholas Sitko, <>, Charles Nkonde and J. Chamberlin

Thomas S. Jayne, Antony Chapoto, Nicholas Sitko, Milu Muyanga, Charles Nkonde and J. Chamberlin. 2014. Africa’s Changing Farm Structure and Employment Challenge. Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research Brief 1. East Lansing: Michigan State University


  • The sub-Saharan smallholder farmers’ productivity challenge is multi-dimensional in nature; therefore, the solution needs to be multifaceted.
  • Medium-scale farms are growing rapidly in much of Africa and currently control more land than large-scale foreign investors in each of the three countries examined (Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia).
  • Medium-scale farms control more land than small-scale (0 to 5 hectares) holdings in at least Ghana, and Zambia. There is a strong inverse correlation between landholding size and the proportion of land under cultivation.
  • The rise of medium-scale farms reflects a rising demand for prime land by upper-class urban and rural people.
  • Eighty percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land reserves are in a handful of countries, many of which are fragile states. By contrast, many small-scale farming areas have become enclaves unable to expand because they are surrounded by lands of a different tenure system.
  • Population growth in densely populated smallholder farming areas is contributing to growing land pressures and unsustainable forms of agricultural intensification.
  • Land allocation priorities and public expenditure patterns will influence the rate of migration from farming to non-farm and from rural to urban areas, and will determine the extent to which Africa’s rural youth seek employment as farmers.
  • It is in African leader’s interests to protect the land rights of rural communities. Africa’s rural population is expected to rise by 48 percent between 2015 and 2050. Over 330 million of whom will come from rural areas. The non-farm economy will be able to absorb at best only two-thirds of this rapidly growing labor force. Hence, the availability of land for expansion of family farming—combined with the pattern of public investments and enabling policies—will determine whether a high proportion of young Africans are gainfully employed in agriculture or join the ranks of the jobless, constituting political risks for African leaders.



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