Africa's changing farm size distribution patterns: the rise of medium-scale farms

Type Journal Article - Agricultural Economics
Title Africa's changing farm size distribution patterns: the rise of medium-scale farms
Volume 47
Issue S1
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2016
Page numbers 197-214
This study assesses changes over the past decade in the farm size distributions of Ghana, Kenya,
Tanzania and Zambia. Among all farms below 100 hectares in size, the share of land on small-scale
holdings under five hectares has declined except in Kenya. Medium-scale farms (defined here as farm
holdings between five and 100 hectares) account for a rising share of total farmland, especially in the 10
to 100 hectare range where the number of these farms is growing especially rapidly. Medium-scale
farms control roughly 20% of total farmland in Kenya, 32% in Ghana, 39% in Tanzania, and over 50% in
Zambia. The rapid rise of medium-scale holdings in most cases reflects increased interest in land by
urban-based professionals or influential rural people. About half of these farmers obtained their land
later in life, financed by non-farm income. The rise of medium-scale farms is affecting the region in
diverse ways that are difficult to generalize. Many such farms are a source of dynamism, technical
change and commercialization of African agriculture. However, medium-scale land acquisitions may
exacerbate land scarcity in rural areas, which could have important effects given the projected 60%
increase in rural Africa’s population between 2015 and 2050. Medium-scale farmers tend to dominate
farm lobby groups and influence agricultural policies and public expenditures to agriculture in their
favor. Nationally representative Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data from six countries (Ghana,
Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia) show that urban households own 5% to 35% of total
agricultural land and that this share is rising in all countries where DHS surveys were repeated. This
suggests a new and hitherto unrecognized channel by which medium-scale farmers may be altering the
strength and location of agricultural growth and employment multipliers between rural and urban areas.
Given current trends, medium-scale farms are likely to soon become the dominant scale of farming in
many African countries.

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