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The socio-economic environment

Households involved in smallholder agriculture are typically rural with a predominant male leadership. In most smallholder farming communities, land is owned by men, with a strong gender disparity (Neumayer, 2014). Consequently, decisions pertaining to the household or farm (e.g., crops to be cultivated, choice of farm inputs) are often taken by the male heads. Weeding on the farm is primarily carried out by women with the help of their children, although occasionally the household can get the support of people in their networks (e.g., cooperatives) to provide labour on their farm. Similarly household chores are also taken care of by the women and children. Women and children are further responsible for taking care of the household’s livestock in the case of an integrated crop-livestock system.

Households with limited financial capacity cultivate solely for household consumption. They will normally cultivate staple foods that require minimum nutrient input (e.g., millet, sorghum, groundnuts). Seeds are obtained from the previous year’s harvest or from the community around the household  (Matuschke and Qaim, 2009), while inorganic fertilizer is made “cheaply” from livestock manure and crop residue (Harris, 2002). Young people in such families migrate to other parts of the country (often province or state capitals) for alternative sources of income, especially during the dry season when cultivation does not take place (Sow et al., 2014; Wouterse and Taylor, 2008). Money raised through such migrations are partly used to support the household’s expenses such as for food purchases (i.e., when their harvest has run off) and for buying farm inputs (e.g., cutlasses and hoes) for the next cropping season (Wouterse and Taylor, 2008).

Bigger households with a better financial standing cultivate for own consumption and also for market. The heads of such households may have other employment (e.g., formal employment) or may be engaged in other ventures (e.g., livestock rearing or retailing) that gives them extra income for farming activities. Such households normally own more than one agricultural field, or have one large field. Households in this category could have tractor(s) or bullocks for ploughing. Labour is still provided by children of the household, but when necessary extra labour is hired for weeding or at harvest time. Crops with commercial value such as maize, rice, cotton, yam, potatoes and groundnuts are cultivated for the market while millet and sorghum may be cultivated solely for household consumption. Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are purchased and applied in such cases because of the commercial value of the crops.

Harvested produce is sold in local markets to end consumers or middle men/women who transport then onwards to bigger markets in the cities. In some instances, market women buy the harvested produce directly from the farm gate. Smallholder farmers generally have poor access to markets (Machete, 2004). For example, they do not have ready access to bigger markets in the cities due to inadequate infrastructure (e.g., transportation, storage), volume and quality of produce traded, institutional bottlenecks, inappropriate policies, poor access to technology, or failure to understand important market factors (Doss, 2006; Osmani and Hossain, 2015; Sharma et al., 2012). Consequently, smallholder farmers are unable to obtain optimal monetary value from their produce due to certain market forces. Awo (2012), for example, indicated the influence of the so-called “market queens” in the marketing of tomatoes in the Upper East region of Ghana.

Most smallholder farmers lose substantial revenue due to poor storage and transportation facilities. Prices are often dictated by market forces especially during bumper harvest times. As produce can easily go bad, and farmers have no appropriate storage facilities, they tend to contend with low producer prices (Mukwevho and Anim, 2014). On the other hand, farmers have no influence on the pricing of farm inputs, as these are determined by market forces such as inflation, import cost, government policy in agriculture and demand. This situation negatively impacts smallholder farmers, and limits their full participation in the food market chain.