Family Farms and Investment Capacities

AuthorBenoît Dave,Laurence Roudart
Published date01 September 2014
Date01 September 2014
World Food Policy - Volume 1, Number 2 - Fall 2014
Aer decades of neglect of the agri-
cultural sector in many developing
countries, by both national govern-
ments and international public aid (Lip-
ton 1977; Krueger, Schi and Valdés 1991;
World Bank 2007), a broad consensus has
emerged on the need to invest in this sec-
tor. is is well illustrated by the World de-
velopment report 2008 of the World Bank.
While this report is ambiguous as to the
kind of players best placed to invest in agri-
culture, this issue has raised a debate, espe-
cially since large-scale corporate and public
investments have developed following the
agricultural prices spike on international
markets in 2007/08. Some consider these
investments mainly as a source of liveli-
hood opportunities for those living in rural
areas in poor countries, recognizing howev-
er that some risks do exist but judging that
they can be managed by appropriate gov-
ernment sponsored institutions (Deininger
and Byerlee 2011). Others, concerned by
the risk of marginalization of family farm-
ers, reect on collaborative business models
that may structure agricultural investments
so that they benet family farmers to some
extent (Cotula and Leonard 2010; Vermeu-
len and Cotula 2010). Others still consider
that most investments in smallholder ag-
riculture are made, and are to be made, by
smallholders themselves, mainly through
labor investments, while acknowledging
that many constraints burden these invest-
ments (Scoones et al. 2010; Lowder, Caris-
ma and Skoet 2012; HLPE 2013).
On the other hand, the history of
many parts of the world in recent decades
shows that, with the support of appropriate
policies, family farmers have been able to
is article aims to shed light on the conditions under which family farmers in de-
veloping countries could be able to invest and develop. is question is of particu-
lar interest in the Oce du Niger area in Mali because, since 2006, the Malian gov-
ernment has been seeking to attract new investors there, under the assumption that
they will be more able than family farmers to develop agriculture. On the other hand,
the main union of family farmers in this area promotes investment by family farm-
ers themselves. Based on the farming system concept, a thorough eld survey was
carried out, combining quantitative and qualitative methods for data collection and
processing. e data analysis shows that access to properly irrigated land, and ac-
cess to short and medium-term credit to purchase inputs and equipment, are cur-
rently the main factors limiting farm productivity and investment capacities. e
study suggests that for agriculture to develop in Mali, the peasant way is fully credible.
Keywords: farming system, agricultural surplus, irrigation scheme, land grabbing,
Acknowledgement: we wish to thank the anonymous reviewer for his/her very rele-
vant comments on an earlier dra of this paper. e remaining shortcomings are our
sole responsibility.
Family Farms and Investment Capacities
Laurence Roudart1 , Benoît Dave1
1 Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium.
Family Farms and Investment Capacities
invest, to increase their production, produc-
tivity, and competitiveness. It has been true
in Asian countries that pursued green revo-
lution policies from the mid-1960s onward
(Hazell and Ramasamy 1991; Mellor 1998;
Trébuil and Hossain 2004; Grion 2006;
De Janvry and Byerlee 2009). Elsewhere
in North America and in Western Europe,
from the 1930s and 1950s respectively, it is
family farmers who, beyond the public in-
vestments and the private investments in ag-
ricultural commodity chains upstream and
downstream of the production stage, have
made the productive investments needed
to complete the second major agricultural
revolution of the Modern Era, which has
resulted in an enormous accumulation of
xed and circulating capital in family farms,
and huge productivity gains (Mazoyer and
Roudart 2000, 2006; Weis 2007; McMichael
2009; Roudart and Mazoyer 2012).
e objective of this paper is to an-
alyze whether family farms in the Oce
du Niger zone in Mali are able to accumu-
late capital from agricultural activities. is
question is of particular interest because,
since 2006, the Malian government has been
seeking to attract new investors there, pub-
lic or private, national or foreign (Cotula
et al. 2009; Oakland Institute and CNOP
2011). It has done so for lack of money to
develop new irrigated land, but also under
the assumption that these new investors will
be more able than family farmers to develop
agriculture in this area (Adamczewski et al.
2013). About 500 potential investors might
have obtained a license, for a total of about
600,000 hectares (ha) in 2011 (Hertzog et
al. 2012), more than six times the area cur-
rently irrigated and cultivated in the zone.
However, the ow of the Niger River and the
capacity of the irrigation system will not al-
low to irrigate such an area, which suggests
conicts over access to water. In this context,
the main union of family farmers in the area,
namely the SEXAGON (Syndicat des ex-
ploitants agricoles de l’Oce du Niger), took
position on the land question. SEXAGON
(2009, 2010) claims that the lack of access
to irrigated land is one of the main factors
limiting the productivity and investment ca-
pacity of family farms in the area. erefore,
it demands greater and more secure access
to irrigated plots by family farmers.
us, in this article, we analyze the
economic feasibility of the strategy proposed
by the SEXAGON. We rst briey present
the main features of agriculture in this area,
before to expose our research approach, to
analyze the results and limitations of this re-
search, and then to conclude.
Main features of agriculture in the
Oce du Niger zone
Irrigated crops
The Oce du Niger zone is an irrigat-
ed area of about 86,000 ha located in
the Niger River Inner Delta. is is a
gravity irrigation scheme, originating in the
water that accumulates behind the dam of
Markala (Oce du Niger 2010).
is zone began to develop in 1932,
under the aegis of the French authorities.
Its development experienced many set-
backs, so that it was almost abandoned in
the late 1970s. Yet, at that time, stakehold-
ers—including farmers, the State, the Oce
du Niger and donors—decided to begin a
process of rehabilitation of water infrastruc-
tures, and a gradual introduction of tech-
nical cum institutional innovations. is
process stretched over a period of nearly 20
years, during which family farmers greatly
increased crop yields, raised the number of
harvests per year and diversied crops—in
dierent ways according to their ecolog-
ical, economic and social conditions—to
the point that many authors consider this

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