Mega trends in African agriculture – farming structure changing because of farm size

Farming is slowly but surely moving from small farms to much bigger ones.

Prof Ferdi Meyer, director at the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), said it is one of the biggest trends on the continent, as well as in  sub-Saharan Africa.

Speaking at the recent Farmers Weekly Agribusiness Africa Conference, Meyer said most agricultural land in Zambia is classified as medium-sized farms (5 ha -100 ha) and the amount of land being farmed at large scale (larger than 100 ha) is more or less equal to small-scale farms (0 – 5 ha).

In ten years’ time, maize production in Zambia has changed from a shortage to surplus amounts and 800 000 ha of land is under production.

“They are continually, and with ease, producing surplus amounts,” Meyer said.

In Ghana, most of the land is still cultivated by small farmers, but medium-sized farmers are catching up.

As part of this trend of changing farm structures, Meyer said there are big attempts in several countries to transfer ownership from customary-tenure security to private individuals. This relates to changes in the market for land, as land sales and rental markets are quickly being developed.

Meyer said these developments offer opportunities for investment in agriculture in Africa.


The downward slide in global food and energy prices is another trend influencing agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, he said.

Previously there was a good real price increase because of economic growth in countries like China and India. However, the area under production has increased globally and due to large global surpluses and stock, the picture has changed completely, said Meyer.

“Agriculture will have to ask itself how they are going to manage the cycle of lower prices.”


Statistics show the role of agriculture as a large job provider on the continent is decreasing in comparison to other opportunities in other sectors.

Meyer said the number of jobs in agriculture in Malawi decreased from 73% in 1999 to 54% in 2008. In Zambia the percentage decreased from 75% to 60% during the same period. In Ghana it decreased from 52% in 2005-’06 to 44% in 2012-’13.

The trend however is not the same in all countries – in Nigeria the percentage of job opportunities in agriculture is increasing.

Meyer said urban areas are growing fast, but in Africa, including sub-Saharan areas, the rural population is growing fast and more growth is expected.

The other big trends that are going to influence agriculture in the region is the use of technology, the African population explosion, soil degradation and climate change.

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