A minivan with an unusual group of passengers moves through the countryside and villages of western Uganda. Its passengers take in the poverty but also the very visible signs of a dynamic rural economy. Lorries move maize across porous borders to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and southern Sudan, and take the local staple matooke (cooking banana) from roadside collecting points to the capital Kampala.
The vast majority of this produce comes from small farms. Like many regions that were once considered remote, this area is now heavily influenced by national, regional and global trade. And alongside that trade comes the globalisation of expectations, with youth looking beyond the farm for their future.
The passengers in the minivan know that the world’s half-billion smallholdings are carrying a heavy weight of expectations. Small-scale farmers are being cast as the future guardians of global food security, as new partners with big business, and as central to the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.
These expectations also come with no shortage of external advice on how small-scale farmers should organise themselves in the market. Many donors, businesses and NGOs are now looking for ways to bring small-scale farmers into “inclusive” trade with big business, through producer organisations and co-operatives. Last week, a large conference in Addis Ababa added to calls for small-scale farmers to be brought into modern value chains, supported by government policy.