Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe have been unable to take up the opportunities presented by new markets for high-value horticultural export crops, partly because of the high risk often faced by the organizers of out-grower schemes. While there would seem to be high potential in developing business linkages between small-scale growers and largescale exporters, the exporters are confronted with a high rate of default among smallholders, and produce being diverted to competitors, and are therefore reluctant to work with smallholders. This article describes the background of the Zimbabwean horticultural industry, and particularly the experience of the exporter Hortico, in order to identify new approaches that would reduce the risks inherent in outgrower schemes. The case of Hortico suggests that these barriers can be overcome if the exporter takes on the role of 'benign dictator', setting up a strict supervisory system and assuming responsibility for the rigid enforcement of standards. This may mean, however, that the exporter will only be able to offer the smallholder a small proportion (30 per cent) of the price achieved by commercial farmers who do not require external supervision. Suggestions are made as to how to maximize the returns to smallholders, including involving intermediary NGOs, working with farmers' groups, improving infrastructure, and adapting supermarkets' ethical trade criteria to the needs of smallholders.