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Session Overview
5-SP053: Small- Versus Big-Holders: A Debate on Rural Development Trajectories for the Global South
Wednesday, 07/July/2021:
11:00am - 12:15pm

Session Chair: Prof. Maarten Bavinck, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

Session Abstract

This panel will debate a classical theme of development studies: the choice between a trajectory based on a few large, efficient firms and one that depends on a collection of autonomous peasants, or smallholders. Is ‘small’ indeed more beautiful than ‘big’? Or is ‘big’ more effective than ‘small’? Which trajectory is more capable of addressing the challenges of the future: providing sufficient food, reducing poverty, lessening environmental degradation, providing employment and lowering societal inequalities? We will discuss these topics in the context of agro-based, rural economies (fisheries, forestry, agriculture) of the Global South.

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Small Versus Big-Holders: A Debate on Rural Development Trajectories for the Global South (A Case of Sub-Saharan Africa)

Cecy Edijala Balogun



Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty is about 767 million, two thirds of this population live in rural areas, the majority in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia. In SSA agriculture account for an average of 15% contribution to GDP, providing livelihood for over 70% of the population in small farm holdings with low yield. Smallholder farmers (SHFs) account for over 80% of food production in the region. Their production capacity is constrained by lack of access to land and tenure rights that limit their scale of production, poor agricultural financing for expansion and diversification, lack of access to improved technologies for increased output, poor access to markets and extension services, etc. Apart from the traditional SHFs, large holder farms (LHFs) have been on the increase in SSA. The LHFs are predominant in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya etc. and threatens the survival of SHFs, who lack the capacity to compete with the LHFs for land, water resources and other inputs for expansion. South Africa’s LHFs control over 80% of agricultural land area, with their average farm size doubling to over 2,000 since the 1980s while about 11,000 black households hold less than 1ha each in the former rural homelands. In Namibia, LHFs owned 45% of the agricultural land in 2010, with the majority of households holding the semi-arid land. Similarly, in Zambia, the number of LHFs in long leaseholds have tripled by the 1990s. Land size of LHFs range from 200 to 5,000ha, compared to 2ha for the SHF. In Malawi, about 16% of Malawi’s 7.7 million ha of arable land is under LHFs. The LHFs employ highly technological farming methods in terms of fertilizers and chemical usage that degrade the soil component, contribute to environmental pollution; mechanized systems that require low human labour interface, and produce mainly for exports such that their production contribute little in addressing the development of the rural economy where they operate. SHFs hold the key to rural development in SSA. They produce a large share of the region’s food, accounting for approximately 80% of all farms in the region and employ about 175 million people directly. They have the potential for reducing rural poverty and improving rural livelihood through employment creation, especially for the youth and women thereby reducing the social inequality that persists, create opportunities through entrepreneurial development for non-farm diversifications during off-seasons, if the right policies to drive investments in the sector are put in place, particularly access to credit and other financial services. SHFs adaptation to sustainable agriculture increases average crop yield by 79%, are more diversified, with yields composed of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, generating higher yields/ ha. SHFs are more prone to using organic methods through less use of fertilizers and pesticides which are hazardous to the environment. Their practice of mixed farming systems creates more jobs than single plantation farming as practiced by LHFs. A study in Brazil found that each 8ha cultivated by SHFs using mixed cropping generates 1 job while a large mechanized monoculture generates 1 job/67ha. The traditional practices of SHFs mitigate climate change through reduced emissions and enhanced soil carbon sequestration, compared to the LHFs mechanization with associated climate contamination. A case study comparison of small and large farm holdings in addressing the challenges of rural development in SSA, considering the growing population that puts pressure on the environment and ensuring employment, social equity along gender lines and environmental sustainability becomes imperative.

Integrated Landscape Approaches: The Way Out Of The Controversy Between Big Versus Small In Rural Development?

Mirjam A.F. Ros-Tonen1, James Reed2, Terry Sunderland3

1University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The; 2Centre for International Forestry Research; 3University of British Columbia

The controversy between ‘big versus small’ in discussions on the preferred rural development trajectory for the global South has permeated landscape governance discussions mainly in the land sparing-versus-sharing debate. Whereas proponents of sparing argue that the needs of people and nature can best be met when land is essentially segregated, often as protected areas and areas of large-scale, high-yielding commodity agriculture, sharing proponents advocate for multifunctional landscape mosaics primarily dominated by smallholder farmers. Integrated landscape approaches (ILAs) that aim to holistically target food security, climate resilience, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods fit mainly (but not exclusively) in the latter scenario. ILAs embark on multi-level, cross-sectorial and multi-stakeholder processes to negotiate and achieve consensus on development-conservation trade-offs between conflicting land uses. So far, the landscape approach debate has mainly centred on the characteristics and design principles of such approaches. Issues of inclusivity have however received much less attention, despite the focus on multi-stakeholder engagement, common concern entry points and negotiated change logic. This paper reflects on the question of whether ILAs have the potential to bridge the controversy between ‘big versus small’ and promote more inclusive rural development or whether they are well-intended naivety, at best, in contexts characterised by poverty, inequality and power differences. Reviewing the literature on cases where ILAs have been or are being implemented, we ask more specifically who steers such processes in contexts where multi-level statutory governance co-exists with customary arrangements and private certification standards, and who is included, excluded or self-excluded. The paper reviews lessons learned regarding dealing with the integral power of big companies and conservation NGOs and the lack thereof among ‘small’ actors, often marginalized in terms of gender, economic power and indigeneity. The authors conclude that ILAs can only play a role in overcoming the ‘big versus small’ controversy if they pay much more attention to inclusivity issues in the implementation process.

Prioritizing Small-Scale, Labour-Intensive Enterprises In Capture Fisheries Of The Global South – An Argument

Maarten Bavinck

University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

Most fisheries managers take the concepts of ‘maximum sustainable yield’ or ‘maximum economic yield’ as crucial reference points. We argue in this paper that for many developing countries, however, it would be more appropriate to take the concept of ‘maximum sustainable employment’ as reference – thereby centre-staging the quantity of work (and thereby income) that a particular fishery can create for the population. The rationale is that fisheries cannot be taken as stand-alone but should be viewed in tandem with trends in its broader socio-economic environment. If, as is the case in many developing countries, gainful employment is the major problem suffered by their populations, fisheries should – for the time being - be arranged so as to maximize the number of jobs created in the harvesting process, but also in processing and trade. Following the technological subsidiarity principle, this would normally result in the prioritization of small-scale enterprises, which are generally labour-intensive.

Smallholder Commercialisation Under The “Liberalised Green Revolution” In India

Ambarish Karamchedu

University Of Manchester, United Kingdom

Agricultural policy making since the 1980s has been restructured around a “Liberalised Green Revolution” (LGR) premised around the principles of economic liberalisation. It retains the same public sector Green Revolution model implemented in the 1960s in developing countries, linking intensification of soils, crops and water with higher productivity, economic growth, and the structural transformation of the economy (Bergius et al, 2018; 2019). Yet this time, policy makers have placed the private sector as initiators of agrarian change, in leading the provision of inputs, seeds, irrigation, credit, and extension services. Geographically, proponents of the LGR have targeted rainfed subsistence smallholder farmers, encompassing 40% of the world’s area and 1.5 billion farmers across 55 countries (Dar et al, 2011; Li et al, 2020).

In this paper I build upon theoretical insights from political ecology and agrarian political economy (Green, 2019; Vasavi, 2019) in formulating the LGR. Underexplored theoretically in the literature, I studied the intersection of environment, credit/debt relations, market intermediaries and governments as drivers of agricultural commercialisation. In an original finding, I posited that lead role of market intermediaries in agricultural intensification in dryland smallholder settings accelerated indebtedness, saw stagnant yields, environmental degradation and pushed farmers to rely on non-farm incomes to survive, contrary to agricultural modernisation assumptions (Zhou, 2010).

I applied the LGR framework to agricultural liberalisation in India since the 1990s which brought the private sector to the fore in agricultural development (Bownas, 2016; Jakobsen, 2018; Stone and Flachs, 2018). I examined Bt cotton, a pest resistant cotton biotechnology introduced to India by the US agribusiness firm Monsanto in 2002, driving India to become the world largest cotton grower by 2019, grown primarily by ~6 million smallholder farmers (ISAAA, 2019). I also studied groundwater irrigation, where private sector led smallholder adoption since the 1990s propelled India to the biggest groundwater user globally at 37% of global consumption (Gleeson et al, 2016). By their proponents, both technologies have therefore been regarded as the zenith of private agricultural development (Flachs, 2016; Vasavi, 2020).

To explore the LGR, I conducted eight months of ethnographic fieldwork consisting of 84 interviews and 151 household surveys in the south Indian state of Telangana, an agricultural backwater that transformed into a smallholder Bt cotton and groundwater agro-capitalist system since the 1990s (Ramamurthy, 2011; Srinivasulu, 2015). Yet, in this paper I found that the LGR simultaneously exhausted Bt cotton and groundwater irrigation outcomes in ecologically fragile terrain. In Telangana, groundwater failure rates of 89% and losses from Bt cotton for 65% of households caused long-term stagnation in farming incomes, chronic indebtedness, and the eventual abandonment of farming as a primary income. I found that profit maximising input and irrigation firms heavily marketed capital and resource intensive technologies on cheap credit to the detriment of smallholders. The LGR has dried up farming for smallholders amidst a future scenario of intensifying climatic extremes in India (OECD, 2018). It has forced farmers to rely on meagre non-farm incomes at a time when India also faces stagnant non-farm labour market growth (Mehrotra and Parida, 2019). Therefore, this paper highlights the consequences of decontextualised technological fixes in agriculture despite differentiated political, social, and economic realities (Smale, 2017).

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