Small farmers need new technologies, adapted to their farming circumstances (IFAD)

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How to feed the world

by Kevin Cleaver
Associate Vice-President, IFAD

I am glad to see small farmers getting their due as key players in world food security in Mark Bittman’s article entitled “How to feed the world”, in the inaugural edition of the International New York Times. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN agency and international financial institution, has been exclusively focused on investment in rural people and rural areas, with a focus on smallholders throughout its existence.  In our view it is important to recognize that farming, at whatever scale, is a business.

Terms like ‘peasant farming’ or ‘traditional farming’ evoke for many people the notion of subsistence agriculture, and peasants living in blissful harmony with nature. The truth is that many peasant farmers struggle, many are poor and ironically constitute the majority of the undernourished in the world.  Smallholder farmers need what other businesses need—access to finance, markets, infrastructure, technology, the tools and knowledge to grow their businesses, get their product to market and increase their incomes. That is their route out of poverty.

It’s important to avoid black-and-white dichotomies between ‘big ag’ and ‘little ag’, industrial or traditional etc. Agricultural research, for example, can be of benefit to small farms as much as large.  Small farmers need new technologies, adapted to their farming circumstances.

Smallholder farming needs support; the question remains of who’s going to provide that support. There are critical roles for government, the private sector, development agencies and consumers.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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