Many farm-based households are forced to manage their farming activities with a reduced labour force. Frequently, only women are left at home caring for the children and the elderly.
Photo: J. Boethling
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The present debate on rural transformation reflects a paradigm shift in addressing rural development. While, in past decades, rural development was mainly considered from a micro-level perspective, focussing on farming systems and value chains, the macroeconomic perspective of structural change now prevails in rural development studies. Setting out from trends in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the authors comment on how social inclusiveness and ecological sustainability can guide rural transformation dynamics.

The current debate on rural transformation in low- and middle-income countries is mostly based on an understanding of structural change following the pattern of industrial countries. Accordingly, rural transformation is seen as a shift of value added and employment from the rural-agricultural to the urban-industrial sectors, accompanied by increased agricultural productivity, growing farm size and intensified rural-urban linkages. This is the path that was taken by most European countries and has largely been adopted by newly industrialised East Asian countries like China or South Korea. High urbanisation rates in many African countries tend to suggest that Africa might perhaps follow a similar route. Accordingly, some scholars envisaged a future development path for African smallholders (which still constitute the vast majority of farms south of the Sahara) in line with the motto “stepping-up, stepping-out or hanging-in”. In terms of a promotion strategy, this slogan was translated by its proponents into a target group-differentiated approach suggesting that resource-rich smallholders be promoted to become full-scale commercial farm enterprises (“stepping-up”), while those with fewer agricultural resources but higher off-farm incomes be assisted in moving out of agriculture towards non-farm activities (“stepping-out”), thus leaving their land to the more advanced farmers, whereas the masses of subsistence farmers or marginal smallholders be helped to stabilise their subsistence basis and be provided with social transfers (“hanging-in”).

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