Knowledge for better food systems

How much food do smallholders produce?

Image: CIAT, A bunch of avocados grown by a smallholder farmer near Palmira, southwestern Colombia, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Smallholders with farms under two hectares produce 28–31% of all crops and 30–34% of all food supply on 24% of the world’s agricultural land, according to a new paper. This contrasts with common claims that smallholders produce 70–80% of the world’s food. The paper also finds that, relative to larger farms, farms under two hectares have greater crop species diversity, allocate less of their crop outputs towards feed and processing and are important suppliers of fruit, pulses, roots and tubers.


The widely reported claim that smallholders produce 70–80% of the world’s food has been a linchpin of agricultural development policy despite limited empirical evidence. Recent empirical attempts to reinvestigate this number have lacked raw data on how much food smallholders produce, and have relied on model assumptions with unknown biases and with limited spatial and commodity coverage. We examine variations in crop production by farm size using a newly-compiled global sample of subnational level microdata and agricultural censuses covering more countries (n=55) and crop types (n=154) than assessed to date. We estimate that farms under 2ha globally produce 28–31% of total crop production and 30–34% of food supply on 24% of gross agricultural area. Farms under 2ha devote a greater proportion of their production to food, and account for greater crop diversity, while farms over 1000ha have the greatest proportion of post-harvest loss.



Ricciardi, V., Ramankutty, N., Mehrabi, Z., Jarvis, L. and Chookolingo, B., 2018. How much of the world's food do smallholders produce?. Global Food Security, 17, pp.64-72.

Read the full article here. See also the Foodsource resource How are food losses and waste an environmental concern? You may also be interested in the FCRN’s coverage of the papers Farming and the geography of nutrient production for human use: a transdisciplinary analysis and A rough estimate of the proportion of global emissions from smallholder agriculture.

You can read related research by browsing the following categories of our research library:

Add comment

Member input

Plain text

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.




While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

View global articles


Doc Type