HISTORY has shown us that when conditions are right, famers have consistently responded with dramatic improvements in productivity growth. How will we feed 9 billion people by 2050 when there are already 870 million hungry people in the world today? It is estimated that even if large farmers increase their production by 20% by 2050, smallholder farms will need to more than double their current production in order to feed a growing population.
Small farmers are always linked to the local private sector. Smallholder farmers are the backbone of the rural economy – but they are bearing the brunt of climate change. Worldwide, there are 500 million smallholder farms supporting some 2 billion people.
The best evidence of the power of smallholder farmers is the Green Revolution, the period of agricultural productivity in Asia that triggered overall economic growth and contributed significantly to poverty reduction in the region. The transformation of Asian agriculture happened on the backs of smallholder farmers—women and men. If smallholder farmers are to embark on the transition to agricultural modernizations, the vicious circle of poverty, lack of resources and low productivity which characterizes smallholder food crop farming must be broken. Despite the enormous success of the Green Revolution, countries like India and Bangladesh still have unacceptably high levels of hunger and poverty.
We have made progress, but we are moving too slowly. Small farmers are always linked to the local private sector, at the time when they buy input and tools from suppliers and when they sell their produce to traders and sellers. But often these linkages are not strong enough to secure high quality input and the necessary technical knowledge, hindering small farmers to increase their productivity and diversify into higher value agriculture production meeting the market demand.
Although governments in many Asian countries have shown strong political commitment to small-farm-led agricultural development in the past, further support to small farmers will be needed in the areas of policy interventions. Government should also strengthen the rural feeder road network and strive to enhance the security of land rights for farmers ensure that the ministries of agriculture are performance driven.
In summary, smallholders have the ability to reduce hunger in the world and help feed the growing population. However, they need support and access to technologies, markets, information and finance. This not only supports rural economic growth, but also contributes significantly to overall food security.
The writer is a nutritionist, BCA department, Labaid Hospital.