Transforming smallholder agriculture

Many of the posts on this blog talk about smallholder farmers, commonly characterised as farmers who own or farm plots of land smaller than two hectares. Four-fifths of the developing world’s food is a product of small-sized farms, as estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and yet some 50% of the world’s hungry are smallholders. Because of the size of their landholdings and thus resource base, smallholder farmers are often disproportionately affected by shocks and stresses such as food price volatility, poor health and climate change. They often live in rural areas where links to markets, financial services and information is poor. But given access to such services, smallholder farmers have a great deal of potential to feed themselves, their households and the rest of the world.

ID-10071315Smallholder farmers, however, are not a homogenous group. Some may be largely subsistence while others have the potential to become thriving commercial businesses.  The International Food Policy Research Institute have produced a new briefing paper, From Subsistence to Profit: Transforming Smallholder Farms, which lays out the development pathways for different types of smallholder farmers whether it be through off-farm employment or commercial opportunity.

The paper characterises smallholder farmers into three groups: subsistence farmers without profit potential, subsistence farmers with profit potential and commercial smallholder farms. The paper makes the point that for some the opportunity to increase their income may lay outside of agriculture. For those farmers with profit potential, helping them to overcome the main barriers to commercial success should be the primary goal.

The paper recommends that transforming smallholder farming will only be possible in a policy and investment climate that:

  • promotes context-specific farm size;
  • supports supportive social-safety nets;
  • improves risk mitigation and adaptation strategies;
  • links agriculture, nutrition and health;
  • promotes pro-smallholder value chains; and
  • increases smallholder-friendly financing and investment.

A focus on smallholders is crucial if we are to not only increase food production in the future but increase the production of and access to nutritious food for the most vulnerable. To read more about these recommendations click here.


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