The drought-prone South Gansu province of China suffers from limited water and severe soil erosion. It is not a hospitable environment for food production. Yet, despite these harsh conditions, farmers are producing and selling more food. They are feeding themselves and their families. And their incomes are steadily rising.
In degraded areas of Burkina Faso, smallholders are using simple water-harvesting methods such as planting pits and permeable rock dams to restore land. They are growing crops on land that was once unproductive.
With the world population expected to reach 7.7 billion by 2022, there will be no shortage of demand for food. Our challenge is to make sure small and medium-size farms get the support they need to help meet that demand.
There are some 500 million smallholder farms around the world, supporting more than two billion people. Today, too many developing-country small farmers are poor — cut off from the markets, the services and the financing that would allow them to benefit from rising prices and demand.
How do we ensure the developing world’s smallholders have the resources they need to manage risk, cope with price volatility and help meet the world’s future demand for food? There is no simple solution.
They need the policies and political will to create an environment in which they are less vulnerable. They need investments in everything from roads to get produce more efficiently to market, to skills training to deal better with risk. They need creative partnerships between the public and private sector. They need greater transparency in markets to mitigate the impact of volatility, and greater access to the agricultural research that would let them adapt more effectively to the impact of climate change.
Experience repeatedly shows that when smallholders are given the means and the incentives to increase production, they can feed themselves and their communities, lead their nation’s agricultural and economic growth, and contribute to food security.
Indeed, small farms are often more productive per hectare than large farms, when agro-ecological conditions and access to technology are comparable.
There is no secret formula that will eliminate poverty and guarantee food security overnight. But we know that small-scale producers — including family farmers, pastoralists and artisanal fishers — hold the key to reducing poverty and hunger.
If they are connected to markets and have access to financial services and agricultural technologies. If they are farming in ways that respect and respond to the natural environment. And if they have committed support from central and local governments.
In other words, we need to take what we already know works and apply our knowledge, tailoring our efforts to the conditions of a specific region, or even a specific village — responding to the wishes of local people themselves — so that in 10 years’ time we will have created lasting change, and a world where people are less hungry and have more opportunities than they do today.