Small Farmers are Feeding the World

Page - February 8, 2010
Agriculture is by far the biggest business of the world. It is estimated that 2.6 billion people or 40 percent of the world's population are small farmers. The large majority of them cultivate less than five acres of land. Small-scale farmers form the larger part of global agricultural land, produce most of the global food and at the same time host the majority of poor and hungry worldwide.

small scale farming The number and share of small farmers in the total population varies substantially throughout the world and, ironically, is especially high in those Asian and African regions where hunger is still most prevalent. 

If a high percentage of a country's population is engaged in agriculture and derives its livelihood from small-scale farming, the whole sector is predominantly subsistence-oriented, which makes livelihoods extremely vulnerable to changes like diseases, pests, or climate.  In Africa, 90 percent of agricultural production is derived from small farms.

A History of Neglect 

Small-scale and subsistence farming has traditionally been perceived as a backward trend and was neglected by policy makers, institutions and academia during the past decades. Investment in small-scale farming and rural development has steeply declined over the last decades from an already low starting point. With low accessibility and little purchasing power, small farmers and their communities, especially in remote areas, are not attractive partners for modern agribusinesses and global markets.

Neither most of the technology breakthroughs in agricultural research and development nor the development of a global market for agricultural products has benefitted the majority of small farmers worldwide. In fact, millions of small farmers have been entangled in a vicious downward cycle of "decapitalization" over the past decades that make it difficult to secure the food for their communities, maintain their traditional roles and invest in improvement and adaptation of their farming operations.

Looking Ahead

The traditional and local knowledge of smallholder farmers will be pivotal in addressing the major challenges of climate change, maintaining biodiversity and developing the low-input agricultural systems required to overcome fossil fuel and pesticide dependency.

Greenpeace is calling for improving the performance of small-scale farms in terms of nutritional productivity, resilience to natural and economic threats and environmental sustainability.

Investment in small-scale farming systems will not only provide the highest return on investment regarding food security and the end of poverty, but also offers the best hope to achieve the necessary productivity gains while avoiding the typical environmental and social pitfalls of industrial farming systems.

Learn More about Small Farmers

National Family Farm Coalition

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition