The public-sector provision of agricultural supplies and marketing is largely a thing of the past in Africa; however, private sector traders have not yet filled the gap left by the state, especially where smallholder farmers are concerned. In some cases, groups of farmers can purchase supplies and market their produce profitably. This article describes research carried out jointly by the Natural Resources Institute and the Plunkett Foundation, involving visits to five countries in sub-Saharan Africa during 1994–6, directed at identifying the characteristics of sustainable farmer-controlled enterprises in surplus-producing areas. It also aimed to define programming features which would contribute to a sound support policy for this sector – an area in which international donors and NGOs now take a leading role. This article highlights the research team's findings, and their implications for donors seeking to promote farmer groups.
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.