This May Ruffle Some Feathers...Small Farms CAN Feed the World!
January 20, 2024
In the face of sprawling industrial agricultural giants, it may seem controversial to assert that small farms not only have the capacity to feed the world but have been doing so for centuries. Yet, when you take a dive into the history of agriculture and examine current data, it becomes evident that small farms are a cornerstone of global food security.
The Historical Role of Small Farms
Historically, small farms have been the backbone of society, providing sustenance for local communities and playing a crucial role in economies worldwide. Before the advent of industrial farming, agriculture was primarily a small-scale operation. These small farms were often self-sufficient, growing a variety of crops and raising livestock to provide a balanced diet for their households and local communities.
In many developing countries, this model of small-scale, diversified farming is still prevalent. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, over 90% of the 570 million farms worldwide are family-owned and small, often less than 2 hectares1. These small farms continue to sustain large sections of the global population, particularly in rural areas where hunger and poverty are most prevalent.
Small Farms Today: A Big Impact
Despite owning just 12% of the global agricultural land, these small farms produce about 35% of the world's food2. In some parts of the world, the contribution is even more significant. For instance, in Africa, smallholder farmers contribute up to 80% of food production3.
Moreover, small farms often practice more sustainable farming methods than their industrial counterparts. They preserve biodiversity by growing a variety of crops, contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions, and maintain soil health through traditional farming practices.
The Power of Small Farms
The power of small farms lies in their diversity and resilience. Unlike monoculture farming, which is vulnerable to pests and diseases, small farms' practice of growing a variety of crops and livestock enhances their resilience against climatic shocks and market fluctuations.
Furthermore, small farms tend to prioritize local food security over export-oriented production. They focus on producing diverse, nutrient-rich foods that sustain local communities, rather than cash crops that are shipped abroad.
Nurturing the Future of Small Farms
While it's clear that small farms can and do feed a substantial portion of the world's population, they also face significant challenges. Limited access to resources, technology, and markets can hinder their productivity and economic viability.
However, with the right support and policies, small farms can overcome these challenges. Investments in rural infrastructure, fair trade policies, and agricultural research can equip small farmers with the tools they need to thrive.
I know this may ruffle some feathers, but the assertion that small farms can feed the world is not just wishful thinking. It's a reality backed by history and data. As we grapple with the twin challenges of feeding a growing global population and mitigating climate change, perhaps it's time to look back to our roots and give small farms the recognition and support they deserve.
(source 1: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5251e.pdf)