A young smallscale farmer in Kamboi village, Rift valley, Kenya. <br> Photo: ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

A young smallscale farmer in Kamboi village, Rift valley, Kenya.
Photo: ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Small farms vital to meet global food demand

A large amount of global food supply is produced by small farms. Furthermore, areas with small farms provide a high diversity of food commodities. Researchers found that micronutrient production in these areas is higher than in areas with less diversity.

Small and medium-sized farms are important in achieving global food security, according to a study published by an international team of researchers in The Lancet in April 2017. The production of global food commodities differs geographically, and in developing countries small farms are as important for food production as large farms in developed countries.

More than half the amount of cereals, fruits, pulses, roots and tubers and vegetables produced globally was produced by small and medium sized farms with less than 50 hectares, the researchers found. Nevertheless, sugar and oil crops tend to be produced as large plantation crops on large farms covering more than 50 hectares.

Small farms play an important role in food production especially in developing countries, while food in developed countries is mostly produced by large farms. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia and China more than 75 per cent of most food commodities are produced by small farms covering less than 20 hectares.

Even very small farms with under two hectares contribute to about 30 per cent of most food commodities in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia. In China, such farms produce more than 50 per cent of all food commodities, except for fibre crops. 

Food production in North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand shows a completely different picture. For example, in these regions large farms contribute approximately 75–100 per cent of all cereal, livestock and fruit production.

The researchers found that areas with small and medium-sized farms have larger diversity than areas with large-scale farms, and that areas with higher diversity of food commodities produce more micronutrients than areas with less diversity.

Read more: Farming and the geography of nutrient production for human use: a transdisciplinary analysis

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