What is smallholder agriculture?

Of the 1.4 billion extremely poor people in the world (living on less than USD1.25/day), 70 percent are
estimated to live in rural areas and most of them depend partly (or completely) on agriculture. For this
reason, the urgent and undeniable need to reduce poverty puts smallholder agriculture at centre stage.

Investment for agriculture and especially for small holders is acknowledged to be an absolute necessity, especially as the majority of the hungry people in the world are, paradoxically, small farmers.

In order to address food waste/food loss, requires us to understand what we are talking about from the perspective of small holder farmers –  what is smallholder agriculture – and to reflect upon the very future of
small-scale agriculture in the scope of FLW (food loss and waste).
We are often confronted with very contrasting visions based on national situations and trajectories. The majority of investments in agriculture are realized by farmers themselves.Therefore,the main issue is to better understand what smallholders need to be able to invest.
What is smallholder agriculture?
There are a number of different definitions of “smallholder agriculture” and each definition
carries implications for the measurement of the number of smallholders. Definitions also guide our understanding of the investment needs of smallholders. A discussion on definitions is therefore neither trivial nor academic, but has real implications for policies and impacts on livelihoods.
Smallholder agriculture is practiced by families (including one or more households) using only or mostly family labor and deriving from that work a large but variable share of their income, in kind or in cash. Agriculture includes crop raising, animal husbandry, forestry and artisanal fisheries. The holdings are run by family groups, a large proportion of which are headed by women, and women play important roles in production, processing and marketing activities.
The definition of “smallholder agriculture” cannot be rigid or “one size fits all”: there are many variations in each specific context at the regional, national and local levels, and also over time as economies transform. Classifications of smallholder agriculture based only on farm size can be misleading. A smallholding is “small” because resources are scarce, especially land,and using it to generate a level of income that helps fulfil basic needs and achieve a sustainable livelihood consequently require a high level of total factor productivity, requiring in turn a significant level of investment.
Smallholder agriculture is also defined in relation to, and in contrast with, two opposites – larger commercial holdings with hired labour on the one hand, and landless workers on the other.
Off- farm activities play an important role in providing smallholders with additional income and as a way of diversifying risk, thus improving their resilience to the shocks that impact on agriculture. Off – farm activities are a common feature of rural economies, both in developed and developing countries , and offer opportunities for investments in support of smallholders.
The family is at the same time a social unit of production and consumption and the source of labour for agriculture. The productive and the domestic sides of smallholder farmers are closely linked. These linkages explain some of the constraints faced by smallholders regarding investments, as shocks and risks can spread between the production side and the family side; they also explain the resilience of rural societies because of reciprocal ties relying on kinship and social proximity.
Today, smallholder farmers detached from any type of market exchange are no longer significant in social or economic terms, but smallholders producing only or mainly for subsistence are not uncommon – in all regions. These farms rely on their own production for food consumption, as a complement to low monetary incomes. These smallholders are part of the market economy through their provision of labour, and their food security depends on their production, which does not necessarily enter the market.
At the collective level, smallholders’ families are part of social networks within which mutual assistance and reciprocity translate into collective investments (mainly through work exchanges) and into solidarity systems. They also participate – when political freedom allows it – in rural producers’ organizations and local development associations in order to improve service provisions, including market access and market power , access to productive assets and to have a voice in public policy debates.
To appraise the magnitude and diversity of smallholder agriculture and to inform sound policy – making, more accurate and extensive data are needed: not only on land size, but also on assets’ composition (resulting from past investments), production and sources of income. Such data are currently not available at the global level, and at the national level for some countries only. The FAO’s World Census of Agriculture (WCA) frames and organizes the way censuses have to be implemented in all countries. However, there are three difficulties that need to be overcome: (i) not all the countries have the means, the interest and the capacities to carry them out: the last completed WCA round covered 114 countries; (ii) data are not always homogeneous and comparable; they can vary according to the specific focus of each country; and (iii) they are not linked to production statistics, making it difficult to make the link to national and global production according to the type of holding.
Smallholder agriculture is the foundation of food security in many countries and an important part of the socio/economic/ecological landscape in all countries. With urbanization, integration and globalization of markets, the sector is undergoing great transformations that are of vital national interest, that are often against the interests of smallholders, and that are neither inevitable nor a matter of chance, but of social choice. Depending on regional, national and sub-national contexts, these transformations can lead to various patterns, which all entail a certain proportion of smallholders and larger farms, with impacts on the diversification of the rural economies.
Smallholders contribute to world food security and nutrition while performing other related roles in their territories. Historical evidence shows that smallholder agriculture, adequately supported by policy and public investments, has the capacity to contribute effectively to food security, food sovereignty, and substantially and significantly to economic growth, the generation of employment, poverty reduction, the emancipation of neglected and marginalized groups, and the reduction of spatial and socio – economic inequalities. Within an enabling political and institutional environment, it can contribute to sustainable management of biodiversity and other natural resources while preserving cultural heritage.
dufatanye Twese
myself with a women farmer group in Rwanda This January, i look forward to a possible visit to Rwanda, writing about food systems in a country that has been posed to be the possible breadbasket for the region

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