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Understanding the Changing Economics of the African Countryside

Outsiders often view the African countryside as a sea of self-sufficient farmers, who grow what they eat and eat what they grow. But that romantic picture is long outdated. Rural workers have to hustle and take paid work. Much of their time is spent trading goods or running small shops. This unfolding transformation is driven by both poverty and relative prosperity, existing side by side. Scholars call it the deepening of rural capitalism. Nearly all rural Africans still till some land of their own, which often remains their chief source of income. Half of them can be considered farming specialists, in that they earn more than three-quarters of their income from their fields. But household surveys show that people spend just two-fifths of their working time farming their plots. A quarter is spent processing, transporting and selling farm produce.