Smallholders still feed majority of the world but are increasingly strapped for land

A new report by GRAIN, entitled “Hungry for Land: Small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland”, was released in May 2014. The aim of the study was to come up with a more accurate account of the amount of land in farmers' hands as well as the amount of food produced on that land.

The six main findings of the report are:

1. The vast majority of farms in the world today are small and getting smaller;

2. Small farms are currently squeezed onto less than a quarter of the world's farmland;

3. We're fast losing farms and farmers in many places, while big farms are getting bigger;

4. Small farms continue to be the major food producers in the world;

5. Small farms are overall more productive than big farms; and

6. Most small farmers are women.

The report says: “Today, the vast majority of farming families have less than two hectares to feed themselves and humankind. And the amount of land they have access to is shrinking. How are small farmers supposed to sustain themselves in these conditions?”

We are pleased to reproduce below two press articles discussing the GRAIN report. Item 1 stresses the potential impacts of the report's findings on world food security and highlights the alarming rates of small farm-loss around the world.

Item 2 discusses the impacts of the “corporate stranglehold” and land investment that drives farmers off their lands. The article also raises concerns about the new wave of land grabbing that is taking place in the US and around the world.

GRAIN also stresses that agrarian reform is indispensable – land needs to be put back in the hands of small farmers as part of the fight for better food systems. “The concentration of fertile agricultural land in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry every day. Genuine land reform is not only necessary, it is urgent”, the study says.

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Item 1

Corporate stranglehold of farmland a risk to world food security, study says

Small farmers are being squeezed out as mega-farms and plantations gobble up their land

John Vidal

Wednesday 28 May 2014

The world's food supplies are at risk because farmland is becoming rapidly concentrated in the hands of wealthy elites and corporations, a study has found.

Small farmers, the UN says, grow 70% of the world's food but a new analysis of government data suggests the land which they control is shrinking every year as mega-farms and plantations squeeze them onto less than 25% of the world's available farmland, says international land-use group Grain. These mega-farms are less productive in terms of amount of food they produce per area of land, the report argues.

"Small farms have less than a quarter of the world's agricultural land – or less than 20% excluding China and India. Such farms are getting smaller all the time, and if this trend persists they might not be able to continue to feed the world," says the report which draws on government statistics and calls for a stop on land grabbing by corporations.

The report suggests that the single most important factor in the drive to push small farmers onto ever smaller parcels of land is the worldwide expansion of industrial commodity crop farms. "The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing," it says. The land area occupied by just four crops – soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane – has quadrupled over the past 50 years. Over 140 million hectares of fields and forests have been taken over by these plantations since the 1960s – roughly the same area as all the farmland in the EU.

"What we found was shocking," said Henk Hobbelink of Grain. "If small farmers continue to lose the very basis of their existence, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself. We need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems."

Big farms have been getting bigger nearly everywhere with rising numbers of small and medium-sized farmers going out of business in the past 20 years, say the authors. Belgium, Finland, France, Germany and Norway in western Europe have each lost about 70% of their farms since the 1970s while Bulgaria, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia each lost over 40% of their farms from 2003 to 2010. Poland alone lost almost 1m farmers between 2005 and 2010.

"Within the EU as a whole, over 6m farms disappeared between 2003 and 2010, bringing the total number of farms down to almost the same level as in 2000, before the inclusion of 12 new member states with their 8.7m new farmers," says the report, released with international peasant organisation Via Campesina.

But the concentration of land ownership is seen on every continent. Argentina lost more than one-third of its farms in the two decades from 1988 to 2008. Between 1997 to 2007, Chile lost 15% of its farms with the biggest farms doubling their average size, from 7,000 to 14,000 ha per farm. The United States has lost 30% of its farms in the last 50 years. Here, the number of very small farms has almost tripled, while the number of very large farms has more than quintupled.

In addition most farms have been getting smaller over time due to factors such as population pressure and lack of access to land. In India, the average farm size roughly halved from 1971 to 2006. In China, the average area of land cultivated per household fell by 25% between 1985 and 2000. In Africa, average farm size is also falling.

The authors say land reform is urgently needed if enough food is to be grown to feed everyone. "What we see happening in many countries ... is a kind of reverse agrarian reform, whether it's through corporate land grabbing in Africa, the recent agribusiness-driven coup d'état in Paraguay, the massive expansion of soybean plantations in Latin America, the opening up of Burma to foreign investors, or the extension of the European Union and its agricultural model eastward," says Hobbelink.

"In all of these processes, control over land is being usurped from small producers and their families, with elites and corporate powers pushing people onto smaller and smaller land holdings, or off the land entirely into camps or cities," he said.

The takeover of small farmers' land is now accelerating, says the report with nearly 60% of this land use change occurring in the past 20 years. The report estimates that 90% of all farms worldwide are "small", holding on average 2.2 hectares.

The report also found that small farmers often twice as productive as large farms and are more environmentally sustainable. "Although big farms generally consume more resources, control the best lands, receive most of the irrigation water and infrastructure ... they have lower technical efficiency and therefore lower overall productivity. Much of this has to do with low levels of employment used on big farms in order to maximise return on investment.

"Our data [suggests] that if all farms in Kenya had the current productivity of the country's small farms, Kenya's agricultural production would double. In Central America and Ukraine, it would almost triple. In Hungary and Tajikistan it would increase by 30%. In Russia, it would be increased by a factor of six," the report says.

"Beyond strict productivity measurements, small farms also are much better at producing and utilising biodiversity, maintaining landscapes, contributing to local economies, providing work opportunities and promoting social cohesion, not to mention their real and potential contribution to reversing the climate crisis."

The most productive farmers in the world are possibly found in Botswana, the report argues, where 93% of the farmers have small patches of land but together they grow all the country's groundnuts, 99% of its maize, 90% of the millet, 73% of beans and 25% of the sorghum on just 8% of the farmland.

Item 2

*Third World Resurgence No. 285, May 2014, pp 33-34

Small farmers' loss of land increases world hunger

Small farmers produce most of the world's food but are now squeezed onto less than 25% of the world's farmland, a new report reveals.

Stephen Leahy

THE world is increasingly hungry because small farmers are losing access to farmland. Small farmers produce most of the world's food but are now squeezed onto less than 25% of the world's farmland, a new report reveals. Corporate and commercial farms, big biofuel operations and land speculators are pushing millions off their land.

'Small farmers are losing land at a tremendous rate. It's a land reform movement in reverse,' said Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN, an international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers, which released the report on 29 May.

'The overwhelming majority of farming families today have less than two hectares to cultivate and that share is shrinking,' Hobbelink told Inter Press Service (IPS). 'If we do nothing to reverse this trend, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself.'

GRAIN's 'Hungry for Land' report provides new data to show small farms occupy less than 25% of the world's farmland today - just 17%, if farms in India and China are excluded. Despite this, they still provide most of the world's food because they are often much more productive than large corporate farms. If all farms in Central America matched the output of small farms, the region would produce three times as much food, the report said.

'Every day we are exposed to the systematic expulsion from our land,' said Marina Dos Santos of the National Coordination of the Brazilian Landless Movement. 'We want the land in order to live and to produce, as these are our basic rights against land-grabbing corporations who seek only speculation and profit.'

With the launch of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and many agriculture experts acknowledged how important small farms are for feeding the world. However, they wildly overestimate how much land is being farmed by smallholders.

'I couldn't believe it when the FAO said family farms manage 70% of all farmland. This contradicts all of our experience with small farms around the world,' said Hobbelink.

Researchers at GRAIN dug into mountains of data from every country as well as FAO

statistics and information to find out who owns what. In many countries farmland ownership is very difficult to determine and there are varying definitions of what is a small farm or a family farm. Some giant corporate farms are family-owned.

'Our report outlines how we did our analysis. We checked our findings with other sources and this is closer to reality than the FAO number,' Hobbelink said.

'It's an important report and corresponds to our own research,' agreed Frederic Mousseau, policy director of the Oakland Institute, a US-based policy think-tank focused on global land and food issues.

Small farmers can feed the future nine billion people on the planet if they have the land, Mousseau told IPS.

'The current global food system is set up to provide fuels and food for Western markets,' he said. 'It's not about feeding the most people.'

Zimbabwe was harshly criticised by the international community for redistributing farmland to smallholders in 2000. They now produce over 90% of the nation's food crops, compared to 60-70% before 2000.

'More [Zimbabwean] women own land in their own right, which is key to food sovereignty everywhere,' said Elizabeth Mpofu, general coordinator of La Via Campesina.

'Land grabbing'

Since the 2008-09 food crisis, there has been a rush to buy up farmland all around the world by Wall Street and financial institutions, said Mousseau.

In developing countries an estimated 250 million hectares' worth of land investment, also known as 'land grabbing', has occurred between 2000 and 2011. The same thing is happening in the US.

In many areas the price of land has shot upwards, pushing many farmers off their land. 'US farms are increasingly run by corporate farm managers who hire farm workers not farmers,' he said.

Investors see farmland as a safe and secure investment, especially in the US, with its multi-billion-dollar farm subsidies. As a result, an estimated $10 billion in capital is already looking for access to US farmland, according to the Oakland Institute's 'Down on the Farm' report.

Over the next 20 years, 400 million acres, or nearly half of all US farmland, is set to change hands as the current generation retires. Institutional investors are eagerly waiting to buy, the report said.

That will be bad news for food production, farmland, the environment and the economy. The US and far too many other countries have bought into agribusiness propaganda and financial lobbying that commercial, large-scale agriculture is how to feed the world, create jobs and grow the economy, said Mousseau.

'Instead government policies need to be aligned to favour small farmers, not corporations,' he added.

The hard evidence from many studies shows that small farmers practising agroecological farming produce more food, protect soil and water, have far lower carbon emissions and provide better livelihoods, said Hobbelink.

'Small farmers give each hectare of their precious land far more attention and care,' he stressed. - IPS