Knowledge for better food systems

Smallholder farming report

This report from the Food Systems Group of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute argues that small-scale (less than 20 ha) family farms are and will continue to be important suppliers of food in middle- and low-income countries, and that oversimplified narratives get in the way of effective policymaking.

The report points out that different types of small-scale farming exist, including generally poor, non-commercial, semi-subsistence farmers with very small plots of land (the majority of smallholder farms are under 1 ha), and commercial smallholders with larger plots of land, who are often living above the poverty line.

The report suggests that addressing smallholder poverty and slowing down migration to cities requires both assisting smallholders in making their farms more efficient and sustainable (see the FCRN report Lean, green, mean, obscene…?  What is efficiency? And is it sustainable?), and developing alternative rural employment opportunities that do not rely on farming.

Read the full report Farmers and food systems: What future for small-scale agriculture? here (PDF link). See also the Foodsource building block What is the land sparing-sharing continuum? for a discussion of the impact of intensive agricultural techniques on smallholder farming.

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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.

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