Stats and definitions on smallholder agriculture

May 9, 2015

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. Page.10 Despite the limitations of defining smallholders by the size of their holdings, comparable data compiled for 81 countries offer a telling picture: in this dataset covering two-third of the world population and 38 percent of the agricultural area, 73 percent of the total number of holdings dispose of less than 1 ha of land and 85 percent dispose of less than 2 ha. The majority of holdings below 2 ha are found in Asia. In Africa, 80 percent of the holdings are below 2 ha. In developing countries, the total number of smallholdings tends to reach 500 million units. According to the WCA, China has close to 200 million smallholdings; they cover only 10 percent of the agricultural land that is globally available, and they produce 20 percent of all food in the world. This is an important indication of the productivity that can be achieved in smallholder agriculture relative to larger farms. Page.12 Key Features of Smallholder Agriculture page.23 Labour is a key feature of smallholder agriculture. We consider a smallholding to be an agricultural Holding run by a family using mostly (or only) their own labour and deriving from that work a large but variable share of its income, in kind or in cash. The family relies on its agricultural activities for at least part of the food consumed – be it through self-provision, non-monetary exchanges or market exchanges. The family members also engage in activities other than farming, locally or through migration. The holding relies on family labour with limited reliance on temporary hired labour, but may be engaged in labour exchanges within the neighbourhood or a wider kinship framework. Reciprocal relationships are important here for product or productive factor exchanges. Another important dimension is the resource base. This resource base comprises different assets or capital (human, natural, social, physical and financial) and is considered to be “small”: it is, often, barely able to sustain an acceptable livelihood. Smallholders typically strive to further develop their resource base to improve and enlarge agricultural production in order to go beyond precariousness. 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. The Picture of Smallholder Agriculture in the World page.28 [NOTE]: please check out figure 2 and 3 on page 27, and figure 4 on page29 for a comprehensive picture of Smallholder Ag Although the size of the holding is a debatable proxy, available data show a clear and strong picture. According to IFAD13, there are an estimated 500 million smallholder farms in the developing world, supporting almost 2 billion people who depend on them for their livelihood, and these small farms produce about 80 per cent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (Hazell, 2011). WCA data show that in the South the absolute number of smallholders has continued to grow over the decades. In most OECD countries, the number of smallholders is decreasing. Data compiled from the WCA (FAO, 2010b; 2012b) covering 8114 countries show that, in this set, 73 percent of all farm units dispose of less than 1 ha of land, and this proportion rises to 85 percent if we consider 2 ha, the threshold mostly used in the literature. Holdings under 5 ha represent nearly 95 percent of the holdings’ estimates. The vast majority of smallholders therefore clearly have very limited access to land. In Africa (considering the 14 countries for which data are available in the WCA 2000), around 80 percent of holdings are below the 2 ha threshold. P.28


Source: High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, "Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security," (FAO:Rome, June 2013) [verified 4/15/14]

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