College of Humanities

Professor Lloyd Baiyegunhi from the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The Importance of Smallholder Farmers Explored in Inaugural Lecture

The inaugural lecture of Professor Lloyd Baiyegunhi in the Discipline of Agricultural Economics provided insight into the status and importance of smallholder farmers from an expert in business management and economics.

Baiyegunhi’s lecture discussed who smallholder farmers are and the state they find themselves in, including the challenges they experience, the importance of their contributions, the paradigms around developing these farms, research successes, as well as sustainable strategies to increase smallholder productivity.

Baiyegunhi joined UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences in 2009 after three years at the University of Fort Hare where he completed his PhD studies. He received his undergraduate and honours degrees from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, and completed a Master of Business Administration at UKZN in 2021 when he also became a full professor.

Baiyegunhi’s specialisations include agricultural production economics, the economics of agricultural technology, innovation adoption, agricultural finance and farm management, sustainable rural and agricultural development, environment and natural resource economics, food security, food systems, climate change, and rural poverty.

Smallholder farmers account for about 80% of Africa’s agricultural sector, which Baiyegunhi highlighted as having a significant economic and livelihood impact that has the potential to end hunger and poverty, increase trade and investment, create jobs, and enhance livelihoods.

Farms smaller than two hectares are categorised as smallholder, used interchangeably with family, small-scale, subsistence, or low-income farming.

Baiyegunhi presented pertinent facts about smallholder farmers, who number about 500 million worldwide and, in some regions, produce as much as 80% of the food consumed. Often disadvantaged, smallholder farmers are concentrated in rural areas.

Smallholder farming in Africa is currently characterised by low productivity due to limited access to resources and modern farming techniques, leading to low income which creates poverty cycles and hinders rural agricultural development. Consequently, low investment in infrastructure, transport and telecommunications contributes to reduced agricultural productivity.

Baiyegunhi said challenges to increasing smallholder productivity include climate change, lack of access to capital assets, poor infrastructure, a lack of competitiveness, and a low rate of adoption of technology.

He explored whether the small farm development paradigm is still relevant given considerable changes like globalisation and liberalisation, but said that despite the challenges and the pessimism of some experts, small farms are far from disappearing. In some countries, they are becoming more dominant in land distribution and playing a significant role in global agricultural production and sustaining rural livelihoods.

In Africa, smallholder farmers, mostly women, are often more efficient than large farms, are the most populous farm size group, and employ rural and unskilled workers.

Baiyegunhi’s research at UKZN has been motivated by the high proportion of resource-poor households living in rural parts of Africa without economic power, and he aims to integrate and apply economic and business principles to solving agricultural and natural resource problems.

‘The knowledge that our research results will likely improve their agricultural productivity, food security, and income creates a lot of excitement and fulfilment for me,’ he said.

He shared key successes from his research, including the impacts of integrated Striga management in Nigeria, the welfare impacts of smallholder farmers’ participation in maize and pigeonpea markets in Tanzania, the impact of outsourced agricultural extension programmes on smallholder farmers’ net farm income in Msinga, work on gender differentials in technical efficiency of Ghanaian cocoa farms, and the impact of climate change adaptation strategies on rice productivity in south-west Nigeria.

Baiyegunhi said the future of smallholder farmers would require critical government support and outlined several key sustainable strategies to increase smallholder productivity.

Baiyegunhi’s title alluded to the Biblical ‘you reap what you sow’ principle of future consequences for African agriculture being shaped by present action.

‘Africa must use her intellectual prowess and moral principles to develop a more connected economy that is centred on transforming small farms to meet the population’s needs for food, health, and energy,’ he said.

He concluded by saying that smallholder farms play a role in achieving Africa’s development goals and improving their productivity, land rights, market access and more will increase food production and rural employment, reduce poverty, improve gender equality, and drive growth of rural economies.

Baiyegunhi acknowledged his funders, PhD supervisor Professor Gavin Fraser, his postgraduate students past and present, research collaborators and colleagues, smallholder farmers across Africa, his wife Dr Lara Baiyegunhi and daughter Eliana, siblings, family members and friends, his church community, and God for their support.

Baiyegunhi has supervised seven PhD and 11 master’s students, mentored one postdoctoral fellow, and published over 71 research articles in various journals. He is currently supervising three PhD students. He also serves as an associate editor for Heliyon Rural Development section, is an advisory board member for the FUDMA Journal of Agriculture and Agricultural Technology and has conducted reviews for several journals. He delivered invited presentations at several national and international conferences and in 2018 was a visiting researcher at the Institute of Economy and Management at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Baiyegunhi holds a C2 rating from the National Research Foundation, is a registered professional natural scientist with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions and is a member of several professional societies.