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What is a Smallholder Farmer

Smallholder farmers are the drivers of many economies in Africa even though their potential is often not brought forward. ... Smallholder farmers are also defined as those farmers owning small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labour.

Smallholder farmers are the drivers of many economies in Africa even though their potential is often not brought forward. Smallholder farmers are defined in various ways depending on the context, country and even ecological zone. Often the term ‘smallholder’ is interchangeably used with ‘small-scale’, ‘resource poor’ and sometimes ‘peasant farmer’. In general terms smallholder only refers to their limited resource endowment relative to other farmers in the sector. Smallholder farmers are also defined as those farmers owning small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labour.
One of the main characteristics of production systems of smallholder farmers are of simple, outdated technologies, low returns, high seasonal labour fluctuations and women playing a vital role in production. Smallholder farmers differ in individual characteristics, farm size, resource distribution between food and cash crops, livestock and off-farm activities, their use of external inputs and hired labour, the proportion of food crops sold and household expenditure patterns.
Smallholder farmers can play an important role in livelihoods creation amongst the rural poor. Even though Smallholder production is important for household food security, the productivity of this sub-sector is quite low. Poor yields may be one of the reasons why urban and rural households either abandon or are uninterested in agricultural production. There is therefore a need to significantly increase the productivity of smallholder farmers to ensure long term food security. This can be achieved by among others encouraging smallholder farmers to pursue sustainable intensification of production through improved inputs.
Declining agricultural performance is a major driving force behind growing poverty among African smallholder farming populations, and its recovery offers the greatest prospects for rural populations to escape out of poverty. Food insecurity among the vulnerable poor rural farming populations induces a risk-minimising conservative attitude towards farming and livelihoods systems. It is in this context that the potential role smallholder agriculture makes it significant to either be ignored or treated as just another small adjusting sector of the market economy.

Smallholder farmers are the drivers of many economies in Africa even though their potential is often not brought forward. ... Smallholder farmers are also defined as those farmers owning small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labour. 

In South Africa, there are approximately two million smallholder or household farmers compared to 35 000 commercial growers. Many of these farmers rely predominately on the land to feed their families with hopefully some surplus to sell or trade.

Yet the changing climate is causing increased frequency of extreme weather events such as drought, floods, heatwaves or excessive winds, which not only damage crops but increase the vulnerability of these small-scale farmers.

These intense weather events also further erode soils and landscapes, which reduce the carrying capacity of these areas for livestock grazing as well as reducing crops yields. This affects local food security for millions, as well as impacting their livelihoods.

Globally, smallholder farmers produce 70% of our food, but individually they are often cut out of the trade which results in increased poverty.

There is nothing “small” about smallholders. Not in their numbers. Not in the challenges they face. Not in the out sized contribution they can make toward helping achieve the UN global goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. 

Around the world, it is estimated that there are about 475 million farms less than two hectares in size. These smallholder farms operate on 12% of the world's agricultural land and produce 80% of the food that is consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, parts of the world where food security and stable income are still inadequate. The responsibility is large, but for smallholder farmers, access to resources, markets and agricultural know-how often falls short.  


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