African smallholder family farming, the backbone of the continental economy throughout the colonial and early post-colonial period, has been destabilized and eroded over the past thirty years. Despite the World Bank’s poverty alleviation concerns, agrarian livelihoods continue to unravel under the impact of economic liberalization and global value chains. Can African smallholders bounce back and compete? The World Development Report 2008 argues they can and must. How realistic is this given the history of World Bank conditionality in Africa? This essay explores the productivity and welfare concerns of Africa’s smallholder farming population in the shadow of the World Bank.