African smallholder farmers are some of the most impoverished people in the world (43% are women) and they account for 80% of food production in sub-Saharan Africa (pdf). Some people argue their future will be driven by the private sector – the UK's Department for International Development has been working to link up businesses with smallholder farmers. Giant food retailers are also starting to realise that they need to look after African smallholders to safeguard their future.
David Hughes, professor of food markets at Imperial College London, says "there has been a sea change in the last 18 months" at a senior level in companies including Unilever, Nestlé, Kraft and Mars. "This is nothing to do with fuzzy CSR [corporate social responsibility]; this is that if they don't have profitable farmers then they won't have the raw materials they need to make their products. If there are 5 million cocoa producers in Africa, then we are looking at billions of dollars needing to be invested into their production."