FAO e-conference: “The Role of Small Farms Within a Larger Context of Food Security”

FAO is organizing an email conference on The Role of Small Farms Within a Larger Context of Food Security from 19 March to 9 April 2018.

This e-conference is intended to provide further feedback on what has been learned so far from the work in the EU-funded Horizon 2020 research project on “Small Farms, Small Food Businesses and Sustainable Food Security”, commonly known as SALSA project.

The e-conference will help identifying key knowledge gaps, as well as to share examples that will contribute to build the SALSA empirical base. Using this second e-conference, the SALSA team wants to catalyse and foster an ongoing dialogue with relevant stakeholders.

This is the second e-conference carried out within the SALSA project. The previous e-conference took place in October 2016. 462 participants provided a total of 99 contributions, which result in a significant input to the SALSA project. More information on the first e-conference, the main input and summary can be found here.

Who is expected to participate?

The virtual discussion is intended to draw the attention of researchers, educators, students and a wide spectrum of food chain/food system actors and entrepreneurs, as well as policy makers and administrators at multiple levels, on the role of small farms within a larger context.

The e-conference is also open to all who wish to share their insights and discuss “The Role of Small Farms Within a Larger Context of Food Security”.

While the participation in the e-conference remains free and voluntary, all participants are encouraged to actively contribute with their experiences.

How to participate?

If you wish to join the e-conference, please send an email to AIS@fao.org, specifying:

  • Your email address to be registered on the list.
  • Full name, organisation, institute or company you work for, and your position (or simply note “private” if you want to participate on their own behalf).

Please feel free and encouraged to engage your colleagues or anyone in your professional network to take part in this e-conference.

What? The e-conference’s overarching topics

The e-conference will focus on six specific topics:

#1: Cooperation among small farms

#2: Small farms’ contribution to resilience of the food system

#3: Strategies used by small farms to overcome challenges – a view of the past

#4: How small farms address future challenges?

#5: The importance of food businesses to small farms

#6: How can policies affect small farm activities and their resilience?


The e-conference will run from 19 March to 9 April 2018, with weekly summaries posted by the moderator to recap main points and stimulate further dialogue.

How is the e-conference organized?

The e-conference is a virtual discussion linking up the participants via a central email distribution server. Participants send input and engage in online discussions via email, facilitated by a moderator.

This means participants can provide their input at any time convenient to them during the e-conference period. All contributions will be distributed to the e-conference participants, via the email conference server.

Background document

The full background information and detailed topic questions can be found in this background document.  It will guide you to further contextualize the discussions, and to understand the basic guidelines to contribute to the e-conference.

About the SALSA Project

The project “Small Farms, Small Food Businesses and Sustainable Food Security” (SALSA project) aims to provide a better understanding of the current and potential contribution of small farms and food businesses to sustainable food and nutrition security. Supported by the EU-funded Horizon 2020 program, a coalition of 16 European and African partners are collaborating in assessing the role of small farms and small food businesses in delivering a sustainable and secure supply of affordable, nutritious and culturally adequate food.

The SALSA project began in April 2016 and runs for 48 months. In the project the partners have adopted a novel, transdisciplinary, multi-scale approach across 30 regions in Europe and Africa that builds on and connects relevant theoretical and analytic frameworks within a food system approach. Using this perspective, the project is looking beyond production capacity, and investigating food security in terms of the availability of nutritious and safe food, food access and control (including affordability), food utilisation, and food stability.



Free online course on Global Food Security: Addressing the Challenge

How will we feed an extra two billion people by the middle of this century?

About the course

In this course, we introduce the issue of food security and explore some of the different ways in which it has been described both in research and in practice and consider key concerns for the future.

Our central concern is ‘How we will feed an extra two billion people by the middle of this century?’ Focusing both on UK agriculture and on food supply chains in other parts of the world, we will examine how food has shaped our environmental and social landscapes. We will see that, while everyone would agree that food security is ‘a good thing’, ideas about what it means in practice and how it should be achieved vary tremendously.

Proposed developments to address global food insecurity range from technological inventions in the efficacy of large-scale agriculture through social and cultural innovations in local food production and consumption. You’ll be exploring a number of topics that address many issues including:

  • Is food security really just about food?
  • Should we have concerns about health, social justice, environmental degradation and cultural diversity?
  • What is the role of technology and innovation in promoting food security?

And much more.

In the final week we explore the big picture by considering food systems and food chains as a whole. Using examples from some of the case studies that we’ve explored, we consider the relationships between production and consumption and question whether particular kinds of agriculture are linked to particular diets and patterns of consumption.

We will explore the role of the retailer and the consumer in more detail as we ask what it means to enjoy a safe, healthy, sustainable diet. We also consider the issue of food poverty and how this fits within the food security debate.

You can use the hashtag #FLfoodsecurity to join and contribute to Twitter conversations about this course.

Professor Bill Davies has written a blog post about the course in which he argues that we need a new “Green Revolution” if we’re going to feed the world’s growing population.

Requirements: There are no requirements for this course except an interest in global food security

The Gender Dimensions of Food and Nutrition Security in the context of Climate Change

On UNFCCC Gender Day at COP18/ CMP8, the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice released a video and a policy brief on the gender dimensions of food and nutrition security in the context of climate change. The impacts of climate change on food security are exacerbating existing inequalities in access to resources, especially for women who are primarily responsible for food production and for feeding their families. This is contributing to an injustice whereby those who have done least to cause the climate change problem are already suffering disproportionately from its impact, which is undermining their right to food, their health and well-being.

Food loss is the blindspot in our fight against hunger

But we already knew that, right?

Food loss is and can be both voluntary and involuntary, meaning we either cause it knowingly or circumstances that we live in mean that we lose food to climate change or back luck, yes, there is something like bad luck in farming too

Food loss/food waste is the blindspot in our fight against hunger, and farmers in the developing world experience food loss through post harvest handling. Poor handling and lack of proper storage means that most food is wasted even before it gets to the market. Supposedly, a whooping 64% of food is lost before it gets to market despite the fact that technological solutions are available. This is both tragic and unnecessary. Technological solutions? are these evenly distributed, who can afford these solutions especially if they are electronic, and are there cheaper solutions?

Men harvest rice in Nanan, Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast

The global food system already produces enough food for everyone. But 24% of all calories destined for human consumption never end up in tummies, according to the World Resources Institute. In the developing world 64% of food is lost before it is processed or transported to markets. In sub-Saharan Africa alone this costs farms $4bn a year. In a world where 800 million people are undernourished this is both tragic and unnecessary.

Rich countries waste food, while poor countries lose it. In Africa politics, policies, and climate change all affect food production and availability, where periodic droughts and political upheavals have left millions hungry. These are long-term problems that will require long-term solutions. But there are concrete steps we can take right now to bolster Africa’s food security, starting with proven technological interventions.

Basic solar-powered processing equipment can be transformative. Every day in markets across Africa fruits wilt and rots under the blazing sun. That same sun can power a cold room or a mango juice plant owned and staffed vendors.

At Malo, a social enterprise founded to mill, fortify and market rice cultivated by local smallholder farmers in Mali, we are looking at proposals to use solar energy to power equipment which could reduce food loss. Elsewhere in Mali, cattle farmers are using solar energy to power refrigerators to store their milk.

Given that the biggest food losses occur on farms, this is where we should begin to solve the problem. For subsistence farmers, support and advice from farmer education services and farming cooperatives improves their ability to withstand economic and climate shocks and maximize their potential.

New and existing cooperatives need to make modern harvesting tools and robust crop disease and pest management systems standard offerings for their members. These improvements would bolster traditional benefits of cooperatives, such as reducing input costs, increasing market access, and obtaining more favorable credit terms.

For commercial farms, regardless of size, putting trained and motivated employees on the team is essential. However, finding qualified workers is a challenge that needs to be overcome.

Creating schools and incubators with curricula and programmes that educate farm workers, farm managers, and farm owners can both address the challenge of ensuring universal education while providing career opportunities for young people. A better educated farm workforce would be better able to prevent or mitigate food loss whether it is by identifying crop diseases early and knowing how to treat them or planning and executing appropriate logistics and distribution operations.

To be sure, tackling the issue of food loss is costly, complex and requires more than just training farm workers and leveraging solar energy. With a growing middle class in Africa, it is essential that the food saved by modernising supply chains doesn’t end up in being thrown away by businesses and consumers, whose consumption habits often mimic those of the developed world.

As soon as that begins to happen we must work to reduce grocery and household food waste. We should investigate the potential of Fenugreen’s Fresh Paper, a spice-infused paper said to increase the shelf life of produce.

Taken together, small improvements at farms and in the kitchen can achieve real results and cut food waste and food loss across the developing world.

Increasing yields and bringing more land under cultivation will remain important to feeding a growing population. But ensuring we eat everything we already grow could quickly reduce the burden we place on our planet as we figure out longer term strategies for coping with climate change and other food security threats.

As 2015 approaches and world leaders begin to think about how to implement the sustainable development goals on hunger, they could do much worse than adopt this mantra: to feed the world tomorrow, let’s eat what we grow today.

Initiatives to combat food wastage: a waste of time?

Vanessa Nigten    | July 18, 2014

The recently published F&BKP report on food wastage shows that a significant decline in food wastage will not automatically improve food security. There may be a positive impact on resource efficiency and general food availability in the long term but aspects such as food access, utilization and stability in developing countries will not improve at the same time.

Less food wastage, less hunger

The European Parliament has designated 2014 as the European Year against Food Waste. And these Western public representatives are not the only ones that have recently picked up the theme. Worldwide initiatives on food wastage by organizations, enterprises and governments are mushrooming and the Netherlands is no exception: a recent study on this theme conducted within the Dutch Food & Business Knowledge Platform (F&BKP) alone maps 40 of the many activities in which the country is involved.

Many of these initiatives claim to help eradicate worldwide hunger by reducing wastage. The European Parliament, for example, says in a resolution against food wastage “reducing food waste is a significant preliminary step in combating hunger in the world”. In a reaction to a report earlier this year, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim also suggested a direct link between food wastage and hunger, saying “millions of people around the world go to bed hungry every night, and yet millions of tons of food end up in trash cans or spoiled on the way to market”. In a similar vein, the website of a congress organized by the Dutch Ministries of Foreign and Economic Affairs says “there are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world. These people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.”. And Gerda Verburg, the Dutch Permanent Representative to FAO, IFAD and WFP tweeted last year: “total loss and waste of food is enough to feed all the world’s hungry four times over!”.

If only it were that simple

This all sounds perfect: it would be easy to think that we have finally found a concrete and feel-good way to make short work of ending worldwide hunger. Yet, is it feasible to live up to all these claims? The F&BKP study also explored what we know about the relationship between wastage interventions and food security, in particular in poor countries. Despite the limited number of studies that seem to exist, some conclusions can be drawn.

One is that, even though the reduction of wastage in Western countries would theoretically result in increased overall availability of food to individuals, it is unclear how and to what extent this will reach poor people. In any case, claims about the direct effects of reducing waste in the West on food security often prove not to be realized. This specifically counts for food supplies, livelihoods and food prices in developing countries. Producers who cut food losses may in the short term even face significant additional costs resulting from their reduction measures and the increased use of energy to preserve their food products. The only study that has systematically researched the concrete effects on food security is by M. Rutten and Y. Waarts of Wageningen University. It shows that a 40% reduction in waste during retail and consumption in the EU would, in the medium-long term, lead to a very small but positive increase in food consumption (0,04%) and a decrease in food prices (0,2%) in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Donating food residues to people in need has shown positive effects in the short term, but this does not relate to transfers from Western to developing countries. Moreover, it tends to lead to problems of stigmatization of recipients, a gap between acquisition and demand, legal requirements regarding liability and market saturation.

On the other hand, activities to reduce pre- and post-harvest losses, such as technical solutions in agro-logistics, do sometimes show a direct impact on short-term food security in developing countries, and especially on the availability of food. This nevertheless depends heavily on circumstances like the potential of a viable business case, storage facilities, infrastructure, means of transport, market access and an enabling political and institutional environment. Interventions at local level in smallholder agriculture, like providing silos or protection against rodents, have shown positive effects on food availability in certain contexts (silos are a notable success in Central America, but not to the same extent in Africa). To a lesser extent, such interventions also deliver an impact on other aspects of food security, including access, utilization and the stability of the food system.

However, in the longer term, there is ample reason to believe that reducing and reusing wastage may indeed have a positive impact on resource efficiency, the environment and consequently, general food security. Yet the effects, in particular those in developing countries, depend on what the saved resources will be used for instead, on aspects in the value chain like marketing strategies and communication, and on the place of the intervention in the value chain. As approximately ten times more food per capita food is wasted in developed than in developing countries, waste-reduction interventions there might have greater impact.

Should we then simply waste our food?

Despite a lack of proven, specifically direct, effects on food access in developing countries, reducing food wastage – post-harvest, in the distribution or processing stage of the food chain, or at the consumer level – is not a bad thing. In the long term it will often contribute to general food security, notably through positive effects on the environment. However, improving access to food, mainly for the poor and in the short term, calls for a more context-specific approach that addresses the value chain and food system as a whole.

This post was first published at thebrokeronline.eu by Vanessa Nigten, a knowledge broker at the Office of the Dutch Food and Business Knowledge Platform.

New food waste framework points to a fundamental rethink of food practices

To solve the problem of food waste we need to radically rethink how our food is produced and consumed, researchers argue in a recent study. They propose a new framework that considers how to reduce wastage throughout the supply chain. Preventing excess levels of food production and consumption in the first place is its most important step.
Food waste is seen by many governments as a priority. Globally, an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year, and 30-50% of all food supplies in North America and Europe is believed to be discarded. It represents a major environmental problem; substantial amounts of resources , such as water and phosphorus, are used to produce such food waste, which, when it reaches landfill, also emits greenhouse gases. It is also a major economic issue.
The FAO estimated that the cost of global food waste in 2007 was US$ 750 billion (€553 billion). Economic losses are felt throughout the supply chain, from the farmer who suffers damaged crops, to the consumer who pays for food that they do not eat.The new frame work is based on the waste hierarchy, as used by the EU’s Waste Framework Directive. This waste hierarchy outlines possible ways of dealing with waste in order of priority, starting with waste prevention, followed by re-use, recycling and recovery. Disposal is the last resort.To inform the framework, the researchers interviewed 23 food-waste experts from the UK, where significant cuts in food waste have recently been made. The experts included government, NGO, academic and restaurant – industry representatives.
The framework prioritises reducing food surplus. The experts had stressed the importance of distinguishing between food surplus and food waste. The difference is subtle, but some surplus (beyond our needs) is considered necessary to guarantee food security and does not count as waste. Waste comes from food that exceeds food security needs. To illustrate, it has been calculated that a food supply of 2600 calories per person per day would cover our nutritional needs (of 2000 calories) while allowing a safety buffer. However, currently an average of 3500 calories is available for each EU citizen per day. This is an excessive amount of surplus and much of it goes to waste. Surplus food can be prevented throughout the supply chain.
Farmers could produce only enough to meet nutritional and food security needs, retailers could sell only what is required, and consumers could buy only what they really need. Surplus that cannot be prevented should be redistributed to people in food poverty, the framework advises.
Preventing waste will need a fundamental rethink of current food systems and practices. However, it could bring major environmental, social and economic benefits, the researchers argue. Actual food waste, as opposed to surplus, should be categorised as either ‘avoidable’ or ‘unavoidable’. This was another important distinction made by the experts. Avoidable waste is edible by humans – or was edible, before going mouldy, for example. Unavoidable waste, such as bones, cannot be eaten (although the study acknowledges that the concept of ‘inedible’ varies with culture and personal preference).
Ideally, avoidable waste should be prevented. If this is not possible, it can be recycled for animal feed or compost. Unavoidable waste should be recycled, again as either feed or compost and unrecyclable waste should undergo anaerobic digestion and then be used as a source of energy.
Source: Papargyropoulou, E., Lozano, R., Steinberger, J.et al . (2014). The food waste hierarchy as a framework for the management of food surplus and food waste. Journal of Cleaner Production. 76:106 -115.

Contact: epapargyropoulou@yahoo.gr;effie@ic.utm.my

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