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The efficiency of smallholder agriculture in South Africa


  • Jenifer Piesse

    (Department of Management, Birkbeck College, University of London)

  • Helmke Sartorius Von Bach

    (Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Pretoria)

  • Colin Thirtle

    (Department of Agricultural Economics and Management, University of Reading)

  • Johan Van Zyl

    (Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Pretoria and World Bank, Washington, DC)


This study applies data envelopment analysis (DEA) to 1990-91 maize production data for small-holders in the Northern Transvaal homelands of KaNgwane, Lebowa and Venda. There are extremely large differences in efficiency, both between farms and between regions. Within regions, the poorest farms are less than 10 per cent efficient and comparing the homelands shows Venda to be far less productive. Decomposing the efficiency estimates shows that farm size and technical efficiency each explain about half of the total differences. Land is the most serious constraint on output, fertilizer the least binding constraint and the FSP strategy of supplying modern seeds is economically efficient.

Suggested Citation

  • Jenifer Piesse & Helmke Sartorius Von Bach & Colin Thirtle & Johan Van Zyl, 1996. "The efficiency of smallholder agriculture in South Africa," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 8(1), pages 125-144.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jintdv:v:8:y:1996:i:1:p:125-144
    DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1328(199601)8:1<125::AID-JID299>3.0.CO;2-T

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    Cited by:

    1. Jenifer Piesse & Colin Thirtle & Johan Zyl, 1996. "Effects Of The 1992 Drought On Productivity In The South African Homelands: An Application Of The Malmquist Index," Journal of Agricultural Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(1-4), pages 247-254.

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