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Dear Friends and Colleagues

First map of smallholder farms in developing countries shows they supply most of the food

Smallholder farming is the most prevalent form of agriculture in the world. Two-thirds of the developing world’s three billion rural people live on farms less than two hectares, and these farms are home to half of the planet’s undernourished population and most of the absolute poor. Women, who in many places are less food-secure than men, play a crucial role in smallholder systems.

However, there is little information about the number, location and distribution of small farms. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment have created a map of smallholder farms in developing countries. This is the first study to use household data to map farming populations giving estimates on the number, average size, and contribution of farms across much of the developing world.

It identifies more than 918 places in 83 countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America where there are fewer than 5 hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These places are farmed by more than 380 million households and make up roughly 30% of the agricultural land, with 70% of calories produced in them consumed as food. These smallholder hot spots are responsible for 53% of the global production of food calories for human consumption and more than three-quarters of the planet’s rice. Within the 83 countries, units of five hectares or less account for more than half of the production of eight staple crops by mass: rice, groundnut, cassava, millet, wheat, potato, maize, barley, and rye.

The study reaffirms that, in much of the developing world, food production on smallholder farms is not only a key facet of food security for the rural poor, but also makes up the majority of production and underpins agricultural sustainability at national and regional scales. This map contributes to an improved understanding of the prevalence and distribution of smallholder farming, which is essential for effective and supportive policy development for food security, poverty reduction, and conservation agendas.

We reproduce below the news release from the University of Minnesota (Item 1), and the Abstract and Conclusions of the study (Item 2).

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Item 1

IonE researchers produce first-ever map of farming households across world

November 29, 2016

http://twin-cities.umn.edu/news-events/ione-researchers-produce-first-ever-map-farming-households-across-world

Smallholder and family farms are crucial to feeding the planet, and successful policies aimed at alleviating poverty, boosting food security and protecting biodiversity and natural resources depend on the inclusion and participation of small farmers. However, despite the recent spotlight on small farms and increasing consensus on their importance, detailed information on location and size of smallholder farms is virtually absent. Small farms exist in some of the planet’s most diverse landscapes and are home to many of the planet’s most vulnerable people, and yet we have very little information about them.

A new study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment attempts to fill this crucial knowledge gap using household census data made available by the Minnesota Population Center to identify and map smallholder farms in developing countries. The study was published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“This map is a first step toward a better understanding of where and how smallholder farming can be sustainable for both landscapes and livelihoods,” said Leah Samberg, lead author of the new study and scientist with IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative.

Information about the number, location and distribution of small farms can be used to guide investments and target policies for agricultural development, food security and sustainable land use, says Paul West, GLI co-director and study co-author. “Surprisingly, there was not a map like this before. Combining both agriculture and household survey data creates a map that is a critical piece of the puzzle for targeting the billions of dollars invested in programs to improve people’s lives,” he said.

Among the key features of the study:

  • This study is the first product to use household data to map farming populations and average farm sizes across much of the world. It uses census data from millions of households in dozens of countries to identify farming households.
  • It identifies more than 900 places in 83 countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America where there are fewer than 5 hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These places are likely to be home to a high concentration of small farms and are farmed by more than 380 million households.
  • These 900 smallholder hot spots are key sources of many globally important agricultural commodities. For example, they produce more than three-quarters of the planet’s rice and oil palm.
  • These smallholder systems produce more than half of the planet’s food calories and convert more than 70 percent of the calories produced directly into the food that people eat.

“This study is only a first effort at utilizing these rich and complex data sets,” said Samberg. “We envision numerous future applications of this farm size product in combination with other variables related to food security, natural resource use and human well-being that will further increase our understanding of the dynamics of small farms and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.”

James S. Gerber, Institute on the Environment; Navin Ramankutty, University of British Columbia; and Mario Herrero, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia, are study co-authors. 


Item 2

Subnational distribution of average farm size and smallholder contributions to global food production

Leah H Samberg, James S Gerber, Navin Ramankutty, Mario Herrero and Paul C West

Environmental Research Letters, Volume 11, Issue Number 12

Published 30 November 2016

Abstract

Smallholder farming is the most prevalent form of agriculture in the world, supports many of the planet’s most vulnerable populations, and coexists with some of its most diverse and threatened landscapes. However, there is little information about the location of small farms, making it difficult both to estimate their numbers and to implement effective agricultural, development, and land use policies. Here, we present a map of mean agricultural area, classified by the amount of land per farming household, at subnational resolutions across three key global regions using a novel integration of household microdata and agricultural landscape data. This approach provides a subnational estimate of the number, average size, and contribution of farms across much of the developing world. By our estimates, 918 subnational units in 83 countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and East Asia average less than five hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These smallholder-dominated systems are home to more than 380 million farming households, make up roughly 30% of the agricultural land and produce more than 70% of the food calories produced in these regions, and are responsible for more than half of the food calories produced globally, as well as more than half of global production of several major food crops. Smallholder systems in these three regions direct a greater percentage of calories produced toward direct human consumption, with 70% of calories produced in these units consumed as food, compared to 55% globally. Our approach provides the ability to disaggregate farming populations from non-farming populations, providing a more accurate picture of farming households on the landscape than has previously been available. These data meet a critical need, as improved understanding of the prevalence and distribution of smallholder farming is essential for effective policy development for food security, poverty reduction, and conservation agendas.

Conclusions

Our methodology provides estimates of farming households at subnational spatial resolutions, and allows us to determine where in the developing world small farms are likely to be concentrated, paving the way for a range of comparative analyses and providing guidance for investments. This analysis of the spatial patterns of farm size can improve the ability of policy makers to effectively design and target the market and development programs essential for continued agricultural growth and poverty reduction in regions of small scale farming.

Our analysis supports assertions that, in much of the developing world, food production on smallholder farms is not only a key facet of food security for the rural poor but also makes up the majority of production and underpins agricultural sustainability at national and regional scales. Our findings indicate that more than half of food calories produced globally come from subnational units in the developing world where the density of farming households is very high, averaging less than five hectares per farming household, offering support to frequently cited statistics about the contribution of small or family farms.

In addition to contributions to food security at regional and global scales, our results lend support to the importance of small farms for local food production, as smallholder units are especially key in the production of staple crops and direct a greater proportion of their production toward the food supply. Contributions to local food security are crucial, as smallholder agriculture supports the livelihoods of many of the planet's marginalized populations. Two-thirds of the developing world's three billion rural people live on farms less than two hectares, and these farms are home to half of the planet's undernourished population and the majority of people living in absolute poverty. Women, who in many places are less food-secure than men, play a crucial role in smallholder systems.

Smallholders' livelihoods are exposed to risk in many sectors and at many scales; most face missing or inequitable access to markets or capital, few have resources with which to cope with hazards and shocks, and policies designed to improve food security in rural regions of developing countries often fail. In addition, the nature, intensity, and structure of smallholder farming is rapidly changing, and requires policies that allow for these shifts. The success of smallholder agriculture in much of the world is thus largely dependent on supportive policy environments that provide appropriate technology and market supports for small farmers, and create incentives for sustainable intensification.

Improved spatial information about smallholder farming can also aid in the design of policies intended to mitigate environmental impacts of agricultural intensification and expansion, including resource degradation, land abandonment, and conversion of natural land cover into new farmland. Effective conservation in many parts of the world depends on policies and innovations that reconcile smallholder farming systems with the maintenance of diverse and functioning ecosystems. The dynamics of agricultural expansion are distinctly different in smallholder systems, and smallholder farmers often lack the resources or technical capacity to respond to land use policies, enforcement mechanisms, and certification programs.

Our approach provides the ability to disaggregate farming populations from non-farming populations, providing a more accurate picture of farming households on the landscape than has previously been available. These data meet a critical need, as improved understanding of the prevalence and distribution of smallholder farming is essential for effective policy development for food security, poverty reduction, and conservation agendas. Targeted investments in smallholder technology adoption, market access, and land tenure, and community organization can lead toward attainment of multiple related SDGs, and the improved spatial information on the concentration of small farms provided by this product can help investors, NGOs, and governments direct resources appropriately.

The increasing availability of large-scale household microdata provides a much-needed window into the dynamics of populations and livelihoods. This study is only a first effort at utilizing these rich and complex datasets; we envision numerous future applications of this farm size product in combination with other variables related to food security, natural resource use, and human wellbeing that will further increase our understanding of the dynamics of small farms and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.

 


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