For many years, we’ve been trying to understand the implications of shrinking farm sizes for millions of rural African households. Driven by population growth and growing land scarcity, most African farm households are witnessing the gradual sub-division of their farms over time, causing the median African farm to become smaller and smaller. Shrinking farm sizes was regarded by many as a metaphor for the declining prospects for African agriculture.
Imagine our surprise, then, when we started to see evidence of a major rise in the number of farms between 5 and 100 hectares, starting about 10 years ago. We thought we knew African agriculture well but were surprised by this development.
In hindsight, we shouldn’t have been. The prolonged surge in global food prices starting in 2007 ushered in major investment in African farmland by foreign investors. Why shouldn’t African investors have done the same? While the foreign “land grab” was well covered by the international media, the farmland investments by African professionals, entrepreneurs and civil service employees occurred largely under the radar screen. Ironically, the amount of land acquired by middle-sized African farmers (5-100 hectares) since 2000 far exceeds the amount acquired by foreign investors. Read more