The Future of Agriculture in Zimbabwe? The expansion of contract farming and its impact on smallholder income and production
Gareth D. James
Private-led contract farming arrangements appear to be growing in significance in Zimbabwe. Since 2009, following the dollarisation of the economy and re-liberalisation of markets, opportunities for small-scale farmers to engage in contract farming have increased markedly, and the government has expressed its enthusiasm for extending the practice as widely as possible. However, there has been very little research on the expansion of private-led contract farming during this period to date. This article therefore presents an account of the emergence and expansion of contract farming, which has unfolded in two “waves” since 1980. It examines smallholder participation in contracts for tobacco and cotton and presents some preliminary findings on the extent to which contracts improve access to inputs, as well as comparing the means of crop income and yields for contract versus non-contract growers. The data appear to show significantly higher incomes and tobacco yields for contract growers, but no significant difference in yields when it comes to cotton production. While the article represents an important first step towards a better understanding of smallholder participation in contract farming in Zimbabwe, a number of unanswered questions remain. The final section of the paper highlights some of these questions and makes recommendations for future research.