Africa’s small-scale farming is a crucial element of the economy. There is considerable interest in the integration of smallholder farmers into markets. There has been concentration on helping small-scale farmers to meet the quality and quantity requirements of buyers like supermarkets, processors and export firms, mainly through organising them in value chains. Research and experience from practitioners working with smallholder farmers show that this approach is not appropriate for the majority of Africa’s smallholder farmers.
Fewer than 20 per cent are organised in value chains or producing for supermarket export, and the majority of people are still buying most of their food in traditional, open markets and small retailers. Understanding how informal markets work may contribute to improved mechanisms that support the access and flexibility of informality while also considering food safety and environmental concerns, and avoiding corruption and other negative factors working against the interests of farmers and consumers. Despite the importance of smallholder farming in Africa, current policy and practice lack the conceptual and empirical analysis to support this important segment of the population to provide the basis for development as well as mitigating volatility of food prices. Attempts to modernise agriculture have not significantly changed its nature.