August 23

Analysis: Making Small Farms More Sustainable — And Profitable

By Lino Dias, Robert S. Kaplan, Harmanpreet Singh,

More than 2 billion people currently live on about 550 million small farms, with 40% of them on incomes of less than U.S. $2 per day. Despite high rates of poverty and malnutrition, these smallholders produce food for more than 50% of the population in low-and middle-income countries, and they have to be part of any solution for achieving the 50% higher food production required to feed the world’s projected 2050 population of nearly 10 billion people.

At present, these smallholders are trapped in a negative cycle that damages both themselves and the planet.  They are vulnerable to adverse weather incidents and water scarcity, have limited access and low bargaining power with purchasers of their output, and incur high crop losses, estimated at 28% of their production during on-farm growing and post-harvest storage. In order to increase their meager incomes, they cut down trees to access more land.

But this deforestation reduces the planet’s capacity for absorbing carbon gases from the atmosphere, releases carbon gases when the felled trees rot or burn and adds new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the additional livestock and crops on the deforested land. Scientists have estimated that 10 to 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions can be traced to this deforestation. The global community and its businesses have every incentive to help small holders improve their productivity, escape poverty, and end destructive agricultural practices.

Photo courtesy of Michael Callaghan.

climate change, smallholder farmers, sustainable business