Making small-scale farmers a priority is a must

By Stefano Perugini, Head of Grants & New Business Development, Bountifield International
A Malawi farmer in his field of groundnuts.

Small-scale food producers must and will be at the center of this year’s global food system summit. The importance of smallholder farmers is often undervalued but it should not be the case! Not only is small-scale farming the most common form of agriculture in the world, but these farmers account for 70% percent of food calories produced in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and East Asia. Additionally, these small-scale, often family-owned, farms are:

  • more productive per hectare than much larger farms;
  • protective of the fertility and environmental conditions of their soil;
  • more considerate of the long-term productivity and sustainability of their land;
  • more likely to grow a wide variety of crops contributing to agro-biodiversity than larger farms;
  • quick to invest and grow their business and livelihoods of entire communities when given the opportunity;
  • catalysts for injecting incomes into the rural economy, creating a virtuous circle of growth if given the kick start.

Despite being responsible for much of the food consumed around the globe, smallholder farmers and rural populations are disproportionately among the poor and hungry. This points to a greater problem across the globe’s current food systems. If those who produce our food are unable to earn a livable wage, this means they are either not able to efficiently process the crops they grow to both feed their families and supply local markets, or they do not receive enough return on the food they do manage to sell.

Mountains in the distance in Morogoro, Malawi.

Our current food system struggles to adequately feed the global population, as evidenced by the 820 million people living with hunger. Not only do high rates of postharvest loss and consumer food waste persist, but agriculture is also a major contributor to climate change. Food production has increased by 300% since 1970 and uses about 75% of the world’s accessible freshwater. It is responsible for 20% to 30% of all greenhouse gases. It is a primary contributor to biodiversity loss, with 23% of land areas experiencing reduced productivity due to land degradation. And one million species are threatened with extinction. This includes pollinators, of which more than 75% of global food crops rely on, meaning without which, humans would be extinct.

Unless we make active, aggressive, and systemic changes to our food systems, we will not only fail to meet the demand of feeding a growing population, but we will also see devastating impacts that put the lives of all living species on Earth in danger.

A mixture of dried cassava chips and sorghum, produced by a Kenyan agribusiness owner.

So how do we change the narrative?

  1. We need to make markets work for small-scale farmers. Even in advanced economies, only a tiny fraction of the retail price of food reaches the farmer. The situation is even worse in low- and middle-income countries. Small-scale farmers need to be able to get their goods to market and to earn decent incomes from selling them. This means investing in reducing food waste and enabling market access.
  2. We need public and private investment to link rural and urban areas with better infrastructures and to adapt to climate change.
  3. We need to empower women and youth to unleash their potential. This includes protecting their rights and assets, and ensuring they have better access to markets, finance, and technology.
  4. We need relevant policy and planning processes – especially those around food systems in both rural and urban areas.
  5. We need to invest in research and innovation that is affordable, accessible, and appropriate for small-scale production. Today, agricultural research tends to neglect small-scale operations. Smallholder farmers need tailored postharvest tools and tech solutions that are sustained by access to equipment, technical advice, and training.

Bountifield International is part of changing this story.

A woman’s group in Senegal uses a multi-crop grinder to produce food products.

Bountifield stands with smallholder farmers focusing on adding value to extremely important parts of the food value chain. It does so by concentrating on women and youth with an innovative model that can create resilience across Africa while creating new space for public-private partnerships, cross-sectoral collaboration, and large-scale impact.