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Framework for analysing
impacts of globalization on

John Dixon, Aysen Tanyeri-Abur and Horst Wattenbach


The challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and particularly the halving of poverty and hunger by 2015, is immense; and particularly so in rural areas where nearly half of the population lives in dollar poverty and one-third is malnourished. Such chronic poverty, which is deepening, has been accentuated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and more recently by the devastating southern African drought. More then two-thirds of the poor in rural areas are smallholder farmers whose resources, livelihood patterns and income sources are quite heterogeneous. Smallholders as a group, including the non-poor, still dominate most farming systems of developing countries and, on the positive side, account for a majority of rural employment, most food production and significant export earnings.

Globalization is characterized by increasing economic integration, particularly trade and capital flows between countries. The associated liberalization of trade has enlarged and transformed the input and commodity markets faced by agricultural producers, markedly changing their terms of trade and underlining the importance of international competitiveness. Concern over the effects of globalization on smallholders was expressed by participants in the two World Bank regional consultations held in Africa during the updating of the Rural Development Strategy in 2001. The impacts of globalization on African farmers depend on, inter alia, the degree to which international prices are transmitted through market institutions to the farm gate, smallholder responsiveness to these price signals, and second round effects arising from inter-sectoral linkages. Thus, the agricultural support services and market institutions play a critical role. These are a product of the Structural Adjustment Programs and policies (SAPs) that were introduced in many African countries starting in the 1980s to remove distortions in product and factor markets through medium to long term measures including trade and market liberalization, stabilization and institutional reforms. In practice the outcome of SAPs has been mixed, including their direct impacts on smallholders as well as their influence on rural institutions.

Despite the general concerns expressed in many quarters, relatively little is known about the actual impacts of globalization on the livelihoods of different types of smallholders and other rural poor. There is a pressing need to characterize the effects of globalization on different types of smallholders and villages and to identify policy measures to enhance smallholders’ opportunities and minimize negative impacts associated with globalization. It is necessary to characterize national and meso-level processes through which smallholders are affected and to appraise the impacts on specific types of smallholders. Then, it is useful to analyse policy options through household and village models, and cross-cutting analyses of smallholder strategic options related to export commodities, staples and alternative sources of income.

The objective of this chapter is to present a framework for the analysis of smallholder and village responses to globalization. The next section contains a discussion of globalization and the role of SAPs in enabling smallholders to take advantage of globalization. Then, key research questions to be addressed in field studies are outlined, followed by some field evidence in relation to each question.

Smallholders, globalization and structural adjustment


Smallholder farming is the backbone of African agriculture and food security. Of the two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa’s population that resides in the rural areas, the majority can be considered as smallholder farmers. Their importance derives from their prevalence, their role in agricultural and economic development and the concentration of poverty in rural areas. The term ‘smallholder’ refers to their limited resource endowments relative to other farmers in the sector.

Thus, the definition of smallholders differs between countries and between agro-ecological zones. In favourable areas with high population densities they often cultivate less than one ha of land, whereas they may cultivate 10 ha or more in semi-arid areas, or manage 10 head of livestock. Often, no sharp distinction between smallholders and other larger farms is necessary. Smallholders represent a large number of holdings in many developing countries and their numbers have increased in the last two decades. Evidence from the World Census of Agriculture for a small number of selected countries in Africa shows that between 1980 and 1990, the percentage of agricultural holdings of less than one hectare had increased from 50 percent to about 78 percent (FAO 1997).

Most smallholders have diverse sources of livelihood including significant off-farm income, yet are still vulnerable to economic and climatic shocks. Their characteristics differ by country and farming system zone. For example, not only does smallholder farm size vary (as indicated above), but also their allocation of resources to food, cash crops, livestock and off-farm activities, their use of external inputs and hired labour, the proportion of food crops which are sold, and in their household expenditure pattern. The actual farming system, household strategies and behaviour, and the livelihood pattern are determined by resource endowments and institutional factors (access to markets, organization of markets and information, finances, towns, public institutions and services etc). The gender of decision makers (both production and consumption decisions) within the household is an important factor that influences household strategies. Thus, it is essential to analyse the farm household as a unit within the context of the local economy, community and agro-climatic environment (see Ellis 2000). In addition, the extent of integration of different types of smallholders with outside markets, whether national or international, also affects the way they are impacted by policy changes.

Smallholders have demonstrated their capacity to respond positively to appropriate incentives, for example in China, Uganda and Zimbabwe, and thereby to contribute significantly to economic growth, poverty reduction and the food security of the population. However, the degree to which this potential is realized depends on the economic incentive structure and institutional environment which are determined by national economic reforms and globalization.

Globalization and structural adjustment

The process of globalization is not a new phenomenon, especially with industrial goods (see Dollar 2001). Some African countries trace globalization back to the cocoa-boom of the 17th century. Broadly defined, globalization is the growing integration of economies and societies around the world as a result of flows of goods and services, capital, labour and information/technology. Narayanan and Gulati (2002) refer to globalization in a narrower economic sense, concentrating on goods, services, capital and technology. In considering the impact of globalization on smallholders, they concentrate on trade liberalization effects

It is generally considered that globalization intensified during the decade up until the mid-1990s. This new wave of globalization resulted, in part, from: trade liberalization as a result of negotiations in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization; economic reforms that have liberalized markets in both developed and developing countries; and, the inclusion of agriculture under the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA). Some researchers suggest that the mid-1990s may have been the high point of globalization - during 1998-2001 private capital inflows to developing countries averaged only two-thirds the levels of the mid-1990s. However, the Doha process is expected to add new impetus to globalization.

Not all countries have been equally affected by the recent wave of globalization. The group of ‘globalizing’ developing countries with substantial economy-wide effects has an estimated population of three billion. Examples include China, India, Brazil and Uganda. Many of these ‘globalizing’ countries have solid economic growth rates, sometimes in excess of OECD averages, and overall poverty has declined. It has been posited that broad-based smallholder development has played a key role in the success of many ‘globalizing’ developing countries (see for example Kydd 2002). However, a further two billion people live in countries which have until recently gained relatively little in aggregate terms from globalization. Many of these countries lie in sub-Saharan Africa where competition from cheaper imports has had negative impacts on smallholders. However, even in these countries, there are a significant number of accounts of successful smallholder responses to globalization, e.g. the production of non-traditional export crops.

Agricultural policy reforms have been an integral part of the SAPs, reflecting the importance of the agriculture sector in the economies of developing countries. These reforms included specific policies intended to influence farm profitability directly by changing the terms of trade faced by farmers. They also included policies that would affect farm profitability indirectly through public expenditures on research and extension. It was presumed that such policy reforms would generate sizeable supply responses and encourage the emergence of well-functioning markets.

The extent to which SAP policies enabled farmers to take advantage of globalization (or shielded them from its negative consequences) depends largely on the resulting institutional patterns, along with the specific characteristics of smallholders. Structural adjustment programs have not been implemented in the same sequence or with the same vigour in all countries that embarked on these reforms, with corresponding differences in the outcomes. In many countries public expenditures for agricultural research and extension have been reduced. In addition, the collapse of co-operatives in many African countries led to major input supply and marketing problems for smallholders. These impacts were felt differently depending on the specific institutional and policy environment faced by smallholders, their ability to adapt to changing conditions.

To be able to trace the paths through which smallholders are directly impacted by globalization, it is necessary to understand the nature of the linkages of smallholders with markets. Where smallholders exchange most goods within the village (buy and sell non-tradables) the impacts of changes in regional and national markets will tend to be minimal. On the other hand, households producing tradables and who are well integrated into regional and national markets will be directly affected by changes in the terms of trade which may occur as a result of trade liberalization. In addition to the direct effects, smallholders may also be affected indirectly through linkages to other sectors fully exposed to globalization (through remittances or consumption expenditures).

Globalization presents both opportunities and challenges to smallholder agriculture. In order to guide policy makers in designing strategies for growth and poverty reduction, it is necessary to identify the ways in which different categories of farmers in diverse agricultural, institutional and policy settings are affected by globalization. Policy adjustments may be desirable to enable smallholders (and larger farmers linked to smallholders) to exploit opportunities arising from globalization, or to protect those categories of smallholders which could be adversely affected.

Impacts on smallholders

Past efforts to analyse the effects of globalization and SAPs on smallholders often failed to reflect the complexity of households in newly commercializing rural economies; notably the integration of production and consumption decisions, the multiplicity of goals and averseness to risk (see, for instance, Singh et al 1986). Most smallholder households produce partly for sale but mainly for their own consumption. Equally, they purchase some inputs (fertilizer, seeds and hired labour) and provide some from other enterprises (e.g. draft power) or their own resources (e.g. family labour). Any changes in agricultural policies such as those advanced through SAPs, will affect not only smallholders’ production, but also their consumption and labour supply. Consequently, it is useful to consider different categories of smallholders, including various combinations of cash crop producers, food surplus/deficit producers, net food consumers/buyers and mixed crop/livestock farmers.

While SAPs have often provided opportunities for reforming countries to integrate into the global economy, analysts have observed many limitations. The first is the critical link between SAPs and smallholders. In the absence of well-functioning market institutions, the potential incentives arising in international markets may not be passed on to producers, and recent research suggests that price transmission elasticities have frequently been overestimated (Sharma 2002). Even where price changes have been transmitted to the farm gate, the supply responses of smallholders predicted by neo-classical economics have often not occurred for a variety of reasons including asset fixity, inadequate access to information and finance, poor enforcement of contracts and other institutional deficiencies.

Narayanan and Gulati (2002) remind us that there are other important aspects that need to be considered while investigating the link between prices changes and welfare effects on smallholders. First, a variety of factors influences the transmission of prices, including: the structure and mechanisms of the distribution sector including the role of government in marketing, the costs and constraints of marketing, the quality of infrastructure, the level of domestic taxes and the enforcement of regulations. Second, smallholders respond differently to changes in price signals due to factors such as the household’s access to public services and goods, its demographic profile (labour endowments), access to inputs and credit availability. Third, consideration needs to be given to second round effects of price changes (or liberalization) which can have powerful negative or positive impacts, depending on the type of smallholder. These operate primarily through linkages between various activities within rural economies although in the long run linkages with urban sector are also likely to have an impact. Linkages include direct upstream and downstream production linkages, investment linkages and indirect consumption linkages. Kydd et al (2001) and Delgado et al (1998) review these linkages in detail. Second round impacts include remittances from seasonal or permanent migrants, which are an important source of income to many smallholders. The investment of such remittances in agricultural production often affects the productivity and supply response of smallholder agriculture (notwithstanding the evidence from some studies that show that additional income may be spent on education and health, especially in female-headed households).

Despite the importance of agricultural productivity growth, there is little evidence that market liberalization in Africa has promoted widespread intensification of the major crops which account for the bulk of area cultivated (Jayne et al 1997). There is some evidence that marketing reforms have increased incentives for the production of cash crop and selected food crops in specific situations. At the same time, in some countries food marketing reforms reduced marketing costs (Staatz and Dembélé 1992; Asfaw and Jayne 1997; Kherallah et al 2000). In this connection, Jayne (1994) has shown that the ability to ensure reliable and low cost food for rural households as purchasers of food has been an important determinant of their ability to diversify into higher-valued non-food crops. These studies show that where productivity growth was observed, a common source is shifts in cropping patterns (in contrast to intensification of the key food crops). Sometimes, open markets may be competitive but often lack information, infrastructure, and integration with other key developmental activities. Studies that have evaluated the impact of trade liberalization on single crop sectors have generally observed shifts in cropping patterns among smallholders. Studies by Oxfam-IDS (1999) in Zambia found smallholder farmers switched to maize, a tradable food crop, in order to increase their income. Larger commercial farmers in Kenya participated more actively than smallholders in export-led horticultural production, because of relatively better support services (Butawega and Awori 1998). Other studies also indicate the importance of access to production assets such as land, e.g. in Zimbabwe.

When the issue of input market liberalization is included into the equation, there is a further twist in the findings. Studies in Burkina Faso (Dembélé et al 1996) and Zambia and Zimbabwe (Rusike et al 1997) show that liberalization of input markets has led to a contraction of fertilizer use in smallholder areas with its consequences for production. Other studies have found that because of continued weaknesses of informal credit markets (after the elimination of subsidized credit schemes), most smallholders who bought fertilizers and modern seeds were either farmers with non-farm sources of cash income which relieved credit constraints (Reardon et al 1994) or farmers belonging to cash crop schemes such as cotton in Mali (Dioné et al 1996) or coffee in Rwanda (Clay et al 1995).

Many studies of the impacts of SAPs on welfare focused on rural poverty in the aggregate. However a few studies have centred on smallholders’ welfare, showing that the impact of liberalization on household income and food security varies across different types of smallholders and that many conditioning factors are involved. Because smallholders both cultivate and consume a mixed basket of food crops, it is important to assess the overall effects of price changes on the income (changes in their production bundle) as well as on expenditure (changes in their consumption basket), and the net impact would provide some approximate indication of the impact of policy changes on welfare.

The World Bank study by Christiaensen et al (2002) reviews recent evidence on the trends in household well-being in Africa during the 1990s. The study notes that economic growth in Africa has been pro-poor in the aggregate sense[2]. However, there is variation across geographical locations and socio economic groups. They conclude that poverty reduction is conditioned by other factors such as location and infrastructure, households’ private and public resource endowments and the severity and frequency of shocks. Similar conclusions were reached by Dercon (1998) findings for Ethiopia based on 1989-1995 panel data.

Narayanan and Gulati (2002) reviewed three different approaches to analysis, viz, qualitative/descriptive approaches, survey/data based approaches, and (macro-) modelling approaches. There have been few assessments of the impact of globalization which differentiate impacts by household type and farming system, or based on household and village economy models. Such approaches capture more of the systems complexity, and inter-sectoral linkages at micro- and meso-level are expected to be effective complements to macro-level analyses.

Framing field studies and analysis

Given the evidence reviewed above, it is clear that smallholders are affected by globalization in general, and trade liberalization in particular, through different direct and indirect pathways. For instance, the functioning of local markets and other institutions in terms of relative farm gate price changes and the availability of production inputs and support services is important. Farm and household characteristics influence their response, including location and infrastructure, resource endowments and enterprise pattern. Although a majority of the farm population consists of smallholders, the linkages to successful medium and larger farms are important determinants of how smallholders are impacted by globalization. Thus, research questions emerge in four broad areas:

The extent of transmission of the effects of globalization (notably prices) to farmers depends on the existence of local infrastructure and effective institutions;

Smallholders adjust their production patterns and practices in response to globalization depending on these specific characteristics;

There are significant indirect effects of globalization on smallholders through linkages to other sectors which for some smallholders are more important than direct impacts, and

There are specific characteristics of households that explain whether they benefit from globalization (different household typologies specific to each farming system).

The transmission of the effects of globalization to smallholders is reflected in the functioning of local markets and institutions, the availability of inputs and services, market margins and farm gate prices for inputs and outputs. Questions in relation to the following aspects are explored: the functioning of local markets, including infrastructure, traders, farmers groups and market information; the availability and prices of production inputs, notably fertilizer; farm gate terms of trade for tradables including cash crops and livestock; and farm gate terms of trade for food crops, where applicable.

The responsiveness of smallholders to price signals (assuming terms of trade have changed) is reflected in the adjustments in production patterns and practices. Questions in relation to the following aspects are explored: farm enterprise patterns, particularly the balance of food crops and cash crops; external input use, including fertilizer use; off-farm income; and changes in marketed surplus and consumption behaviour.

The second round effects depend upon the structure of the village/area economy, sub-sectoral linkages and local institutions. Questions in relation to the following aspects are explored: inter-household and inter-sectoral linkages, and the role of remittances; institutions and how they affect inter-sectoral linkages, including local community organizations; and the availability of infrastructure, especially roads, and services.

The characteristics of smallholders affect the way they benefit from globalization. Successful local responses to globalization by small and medium/large farms need to be documented. Questions in relation to the following aspects are explored: access to land resources, including land quality and irrigation water availability; typical property rights regimes; level of capital and access to finance; and level of education of family members.

Field data can be collected through a variety of field research methods, of which participatory appraisals and household interview surveys are common choices. The analysis should lead to the identification of the types of policy options which would enhance the opportunities of smallholders to exploit globalization and would minimize the negative impacts of globalization. The specification of the policy options will depend upon the results emerging from the analyses of the information from each farming systems.

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[1] Based on, inter alia, a literature review by Brave Ndisale.
[2] Katurani et al (2004) review various interpretations of pro-poor growth and propose a simple criterion, viz, proportionally greater gains for the poor than for the non-poor.

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