The significance of distance constraints in peasant farming systems with special reference to sub-Saharan Africa

M.K. McCall

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Analysis of agricultural development potential at village level tends to neglect the factor of relative location, compared with the attention paid to physical resources and economic factors. This paper argues that, in African peasant agriculture, distance takes on increasing significance when farming populations are resettled and agglomerated, there being little intensification in evidence. The impacts of agglomeration and excessive ‘journeys to work’ are identified as affecting the quantity and the quality of agricultural labour inputs, the collection of domestic necessities (especially fuelwood), livestock husbandry, and socio-cultural and welfare conditions. Some simple analyses of time-distance relations, such as the ‘effective working day’, are also described, and a model of peasant decision-making with respect to optimizing farm activity location is proposed as a descriptive-explanatory tool. Response to distance problems is considered as part of rural change; and the particular position of peasant women vis-à-vis distance and transport technology is stressed. Data collection methods and descriptive statements of the spatial relationships within a village, or an agro-ecological zone, are outlined within the framework of rapid rural appraisal. Finally, a number of potential solutions to the agro-economic distance problem are briefly discussed—either as changes in farming systems, or as redistributions of the working population. Changes with the greatest potential are intensification and satellite settlements, though both face difficulties in policy and in implementation.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)325-345
JournalApplied geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1985


  • IR-69394

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