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Keywords:

  • contract farming;
  • smallholders;
  • capitalism;
  • sub-Saharan Africa

The paper provides a selective survey of the most significant literature on the rise of contract farming in developing countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. The review of the literature illustrates ideological debates around the meaning and significance of contract farming and whether it is good or bad for small-scale farmers. The paper then divides the review of the literature into three key themes. First, it addresses the quantitative significance of contract farming in Africa, which may not be as important as it is often portrayed. Second, the paper highlights the substantial diversity of contract farming in Africa and problems with excessive generalizations. Third, it discusses the various drivers fuelling the spread of contract farming, which reflect new production conditions and existing constraints, tendencies and counter-tendencies, and both economic and political responses to changes in production and market conditions in the era of liberalization and globalization. The variety of drivers is substantial and defies generalizations about the emergence of contract farming. Finally, it briefly suggests research questions that tend to be absent in most of the literature on contract farming, and which are important in order to understand the current dynamics of agrarian change and transitions to capitalism in African countries.