Cebedes NGO, Benin
City growth strongly affects enterprises of the food sector in their hinterlands through pull and push effects. For several decades, scholars have been debating on the role played by small market towns on rural areas and on their impact on growth. Indeed, recent poverty studies reveal that the part of poor people in Benin has been increasing in rural areas but not in urban and peri-urban areas. In this context, the research programme ECOCITY is studying changes in agriculture and related processing activities at the interface between mid sized towns in Benin and Senegal and their hinterlands.
The German economist von Thünen (1783-1850) has been a pioneer in developing a theoretical framework on how cities influence spatial arrangements of agricultural productions. According to it, land use is patterned in concentric circles.
Around Abomey, such concentric circles can nowadays be found, due to processing microfirms rather than to the crops which had previously provided them with raw materials. Such microenterprises in the food processing sector root in traditional skills and expand in response to a growing urban demand; their proximity to each other is a source of positive externalities so that their trends to clustering should remain. High impoverishment of soils in the near hinterland constraints their exploitation, even if new trends in the use of city wastes can be observed.. High value crops can be found further from the city in high potential areas like river banks but have to compete with products from long distance marketing networks already supplying the city.
Historic inheritances and influence of a large network of long distance markets therefore blur the expected concentric circles of high value crops at the periphery. In such a context, evidence seems to be lacking for restraining the spatial expansion of the city and protect periurban farm activities, even if these activities provide employment for thousands of periurban and urban inhabitants.
Keywords: Cluster of firms, periurban agriculture, town, von Thünen