Farming is of utmost importance to the present and future of this world. I know this intimately especially given the consultancy work I have been lately doing in sustainable agriculture. Projections of population booms and climate change effects are some of the issues of concern. In the world of business and entrepreneurship, small to medium enterprises are undoubtedly important. The same goes for world agriculture; smallholder farmers are important. However, there has been a topical issue on just how important they are. For ages, it is been widely accepted that smallholder farmers are responsible for 80 or so per cent of the world’s food. Well, a recent report is disputing that statistic; let me detail that more in this article.

What Has Been Widely Accepted?

All along the generally accepted statistic has been in the range of 70 to 80 per cent. That has been widely adopted as the contribution of smallholder farmers to global food. This is something that has been so because it is the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is the source of that statistic. Interestingly, more recent studies have shown that this is actually too high. So it is probable that at some point it used to be that high but times have changed.

What Is The Correct Statistic?

Recent studies have found out that at most a third of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers. This means that the correct statistic is about 50 or so per cent less than previously reported. What led to the adoption of wrong statistics then? That is mainly what I discuss in this article.

Some Facts To Note

To understand this further, we must look at some of the facts involved here.

It is said that there are roughly 570 million farms in the world. About 84 per cent of that (which is 478.8 million) is in smallholder farms. What distinguishes a smallholder farm though? It is a farm that is 2 hectares or less in size. Just looking at that might make it seem as if smallholder farms contribute the most. However, that is not the case – smallholder farms typically produce little and people who own or rely on them tend to live in abject poverty.

FAO has been on record to state that smallholder farmers account for between 70 and 80 per cent of the world’s food. Interestingly FAO said ‘smallholder and family farms’ which is really the source of the problem. The thing is a smallholder farm is not necessarily always a family farm or vice versa. That is where the inaccurate statistic is premised on – interchanging terms that refer to two different things.

Is This Really A Problem?

As you are reading this, you might wonder, does all this matter? Well, it does because it causes businesses and policymakers to use the wrong assumptions. First of all, the incorrect statistic gives an implication that we should move more towards smallholder farming. Secondly, it also implies that we should desist from shifting towards bigger farms. As is apparent, working with inaccurate statistics will lead to ill-informed decisions on the part of policymakers, businesses, and so on.

What Is The Correct Statistic?

Bear in mind that there have been countless studies done to determine this. The most comprehensive and far-reaching was conducted covering 55 countries. This is a study that was conducted by a team led by Vincent Ricciardi. It went above and beyond to cover 154 crops in these countries. It explored farm sizes, crops grown, amounts grown, and their uses. The study found out that smallholder farms account for only about 29 per cent of the world’s food. This is over 50 per cent less than previously reported.

The study also indicated that these smallholder farmers use about 24 per cent of the global land used for agriculture. The study said that if they were to reach the previously reported statistic they would need to tweak their data range. They would need to include farms all the way up to as big as 200 hectares. Of course, this would be inaccurate because smallholder farms are those 2 or fewer hectares in size.

Smallholder Vs Family Farms

We have established these two are different. We have already established what a smallholder farm is. What then is considered a family farm? A family farm is a wide array of definitions. In principle, a family farm is a farm owned and run by a family. This means that a family farm can be anything from small or large in size. Thus it would be more accurate to state that family farms account for 70 to 80 per cent of the world’s food.

It should be crystal clear that the two terms are not similar:

Smallholder farms contribute a third of the world’s food whereas family farms contribute as much as 80 per cent. In other words, a smallholder farm can be a family farm. Be that as it may, that does not mean that a family farm is always a smallholder farm.

So there you have it, an interesting angle, right? I want to hear your thoughts on this one. Do you agree or disagree with this report? Kindly explain your standpoint. By the way, this article is not meant to downplay the importance of smallholder farmers, certainly not! I just felt that it is equally as important to work with accurate statistics. Policy and business strategy formulation is premised on such data so it matters immensely. In this case, it means that, based on recent studies, it is imperative to increase smallholder farmers’ capacity. If they are equipped to produce more that would be great for global food security moving forward.