The next generation of smallholder farms

Smallholder farms have the potential to alleviate poverty and increase food security and growth. But first, we need to recognise the different types of smallholder farms and their different needs. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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by Chase Sova

Small-scale agriculture has changed dramatically since the time of the Green Revolution. Small farms today are smaller and more numerous than their 1960’s counterparts while urban centers have continued to grow.

Despite predictions by many economists suggesting increased land consolidation, the reverse has held true in many places including India and China. Shrinking small-scale farm sizes has led the rural poor to diversify in to off-farm income sources, further compromising agricultural output.

Add to these trends emerging stressors like climate change and growing populations and you have the makings of a perfect storm facing small-scale producers. Recognizing that not all small-scale farmers are the same and adopting targeted measures to support them is an important step in adapting to this new era of smallholder farming.

This was the message of a recent lecture given by Peter Hazell, former World Bank and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) economist, during a visit to Oxford University for the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. In his lecture, entitled “Is small farm led development still a relevant strategy for Africa and Asia?”, Hazell set out to answer key challenges to the traditional small farm development paradigm, mainly:

  • Are small farms still the more efficient producers?
  • Can small farms compete in today’s more globalised value chains?
  • Is a new breed of large commercial farm emerging that is about to displace lots of small farms?
  • Can small farms generate the marketed surpluses needed to feed growing urban populations?
  • Are small farms still win-win for poverty alleviation and growth?

 Click here to read the full article on the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food's website.

Chase Sova is a DPhil student in the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at the University of Oxford. If you are interested in reading more about the place of smallholder farms within a changing climate, click here to browse the CCAFS reports and policy briefs library!