This study challenges the notion of `backward African peasants', who depend on outside intervention in order to innovate their farming systems. Two case studies from Manyu Division, Cameroon illustrate the complex relationship between smallholder farmers and the macro-economic environment from a historical perspective. This reveals that the smallholders in Manyu Division are constantly adapting to ecological, economic and socio-institutional constraints. The current rational adaption seems to be a withdrawal from the international economy, after drastic changes in the macro-economic environment (Structural Adjustment Programme) have intensified the direct link between the farmers and the global economy. The weakening of the state who functioned as a shock absorber in previous years (Marketing Board, fixed price system) has fully revealed the marginality of the farmers in Manyu Division as opposed to other areas in Cameroon. Foreign organisations that stepped in to fill this gap have so far not been successful in achieving their goal. This is often caused by clashing interests, especially in conservation (Korup park) and conversion to Organic Agriculture.