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Africa Agriculture Status Report 2019: Hidden Middle

The Africa Agriculture Status Report of 2019 (PDF) by AGRA highlights the trends and progress, as well as challenges and constraints of private sector firms in the upstream and midstream/downstream off-farm components of the agri-food system. The report start by revealing that although 70-80 percent of people in rural Africa work on their own farms, this work is often part-time, and comprises only 40 percent of total labor time in rural areas. Meanwhile, 60 percent of rural labor time is spent off the farm, and about 40 percent of this non-farm labor time is in agri-food system work such as wholesale, logistics, processing and retail. The private sector has a major role to play in the transformation of African agriculture. In particular, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will be vital to the continent’s long-awaited green revolution. Currently, SMEs are the key employers in this sector, intertwined with rural family farmers. This interdependence makes their survival and growth even more crucial, with women and youth particularly benefiting. But small-to-medium sized agribusinesses often lack the collateral, resources and support they need to realize their potential. As such, they make up the ‘hidden middle’; an overlooked cohort of essential but unrecognized workers and enterprises. The volume found that the private sector is a dominant and dynamic force in Africa’s food economy today. It is especially the output and input processors, traders of crops and inputs, and logistics firms that are the life blood and driving force of agricultural transformation. This is because these millions of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and emerging swath of large enterprises are the “support system sandwich” enveloping small-scale farmers, and the agents linking farmers to downstream markets and to upstream input suppliers. These linkages in turn set the conditions for—and the incentives to—farmers to invest in farm productivity and crop and animal product diversification.

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