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Smallholder Farmers Are The New Global Food Frontier

From Huffington Post

Smallholder Farmers Are The New Global Food Frontier

Posted: 07/27/2015 10:01 am EDT Updated: 07/28/2015 9:59 am EDT

 

The following is a follow-up to the blog Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution posted 04/01/2015.

One-third of the world's population holds the key for the rest of us.

One-third of the world's 7.3 billion people are smallholder farmers and their families who produce nearly 70 percent of all food consumed worldwide on 60 percent of the planet's arable land. For what sounds like a major part of the global economy, you would expect these farmers to be relatively well off and financially secure. But they aren't. In fact, they represent the majority of the poorest and hungriest people on earth. How did this happen?

It began with a global food scare in the early 1960s. Experts predicted the world population would exceed our food supply by the 1990s, based on production levels at the time. The answer was a massive increase in industrial farming to produce huge quantities of cheap grain using hybrid seeds and chemicals. It worked, and there is no question that a major crisis was averted.

About the same time as the initial food scare, rich countries began giving foreign aid to developing countries to improve their economies and reduce poverty. Part of the deal was that recipient nations had to agree to reduce support for domestic smallholder agriculture and encourage their citizens to buy cheap imported grain from industrialized farms in the countries giving the foreign aid.

Today there are 2.5 billion people who live and work on 500m smallholder farms, each less than two hectares (five acres). They represent one-third of humanity, yet they have been systematically ignored and marginalized for 60 years, while industrial farming has received the benefits of agricultural research, subsidies, trade agreements, tax credits and regulatory systems.

Experts are now telling us there will be two billion more people by 2050, but not enough food to feed this increased population if we stay at current production levels. Almost all of these new people will be born in low-income countries where most food is produced on small farms. In an ironic twist, this new global food scare is putting smallholder farmers on the radar for the first time. The reason is that having reached the limit of arable land worldwide, our only option is to figure out how to increase yields on land already being cultivated. Given that more than half of all farmland is cultivated by smallholder farmers, they have become the new global food frontier.

And they have found an unexpected ally. Major companies within the food and beverage industry, typically for strictly business reasons, have begun procuring from millions of smallholder farmers throughout the developing world. In less than a decade, this market-based partnership between smallholder farmers and mammoth corporations has done more to benefit the farmers -- albeit with some missteps along the way -- than 60 years of foreign aid.

The food and beverage industry is now in a leadership role they did not ask for. More significantly, they are in a unique position to be the catalyst for a global course correction that goes beyond just helping smallholder farmers.

 

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