Agricultural tenancy and contracts: an economic analysis of the strange farmer system in the Gambia

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This dissertation explores, both theoretically and empirically, the role of strange farmers in the Gambia's mono-cash crop economy and analyzes the structure of strange farmer contracts within the context of rural production relations; ie. the relations of economic agents to resources of production in terms of their use and ownership rights and the relations between economic agents as principals (ie. landlords) and agents (ie. workers; strange farmers). Strange farmers, the migrant laborers who come from the West African hinterland to farm in the coastal areas of the Senegambia region due to certain transaction cost advantages, constitute a dynamic population adjustment to West Africa's spatial, unequal spread of resources. It is argued in this study that the reason "strange farming" has continued to persist is because it is flexible and adaptable to the prevailing agroclimatic conditions and endowments of the West Africa region, and to the economic changes induced by the interplay of internal (the government; technology) and external (e.g., world primary commodity markets) institutional and market forces.

Detailed analysis of the strange farmer contract (a contract of "input sharing"), as contrasted with wage, fixed-rent, and sharecropping, is presented; and emphasis is placed on the "strangeness" of the strange farmers (the fact that they are non-residents of their farming areas) as the distinguishing feature of the contract. Our analysis considers how environmental and idiosyncratic factors such as information, risk, and incentive constraints impinge on agents in this environment and how alternative models of the strange farmer system explain how such problems are circumvented. The study concludes by examining the efficiency and (briefly) the equity implications of strange farming, and argues that strange farming performs the vital economic role of providing otherwise labor deficient landlords with a steady and timely supply of labor throughout the farming season and indeed circumvents the contract enforcement and shirking problems posed by a second-best environment.