Quick summary: Discover the power of smallholder farmers in transforming food systems. Explore sustainable agriculture, empowerment, and community resilience. Join the movement towards a more inclusive and sustainable future.
Transforming food systems with smallholder farmers not only the unsung heroes but also the heroines of the world who form half the world’s farmers. Our food systems do not meet the food and nutrition security needs of a growing population together with a significant threat to the environment. A transformation on food production is required that includes practices of these smallholder farmers and consumption patterns of 7.7 billion people.
84% of world’s 570 million farms cover less than 2 hectares and provide one-third of the global food.
In the quest for sustainable and resilient food systems, smallholder farmers play a pivotal role who with their intimate knowledge of the land and their deep connection to communities are at the forefront of transforming food systems. They do face unique challenges but hold a tremendous potential to drive positive change. This blog post explores the vital role these smallholder farmers play in reshaping food systems. Their contributions, the solutions required to empower them in this transformative journey.
Agriculture forms the basis of rural economy throughout the world. About 70% of world’s poor population live in rural areas with farming as their main source of livelihood.
According to the World Development Report, agriculture continues to be fundamental for sustainable development and reduction of poverty. The improvement in productivity, profitability and sustainability of smallholder farming is the way ahead. Though globally more than 500 million farmers support the 2 billion people, these farmers have never been a focus with policy makers. Trade liberalization has prevented information and technology transfer to farmers. Small farms can contribute to protecting ecosystems and mitigating risks due to climate changes.
Today, $400 billion is lost in productivity every year due to degradation of 52%vof agriculture land and due to further degradation, this could reduce global productivity by 12%, thereby increasing the food prices by 30% over the next few years.
Smallholder farmers face a multitude of challenges that hinder their ability to contribute to sustainable food systems. These challenges include:
These farmers lack access to essential resources such as land, seeds, finance and irrigation facilities that can restrict their productivity.
Smallholder farmers are vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change that includes weather changes, drought, pests, floods which disrupt agriculture productivity and their livelihoods.
Many smallholder farmers cultivate coffee, an export crop that is a significant contributor to GDP and accounts for employment of estimated 4 million. The coffee growth is sensitive to rising temperatures and the vagaries of rainfall affecting flowering, fruits and bean quality. Hurricanes and torrential rainfall cause a significant crop damage disrupting crop harvest, processing and transportation. The changing climatic conditions also increase the incidence of pests and disease outbreaks. Reduction of crop yields due to crop failure, increased rainfall causing waterlogging of soils, increased diseases in livestock, salinization of irrigation water are few of the activities that lower farm productivity.
Smallholder farmers often struggle to access profitable markets as they are unable to negotiate fair prices for their produce and depend on intermediaries leading to economic instability.
Limited access to nutritious food, inadequate income and insufficient social protection contributes to poverty and food insecurity.
These farmers have limited access to modern farming technologies, training and lack of knowledge about sustainable farming techniques.
Fragmented land ownership, insecure land tenure pose significant challenges for these farmers. This makes it difficult to invest in long-term sustainable practices and impeding access to credits.
Addressing these challenges requires comprehensive strategies that provide equitable access to resources, enhance climate resilience, improve market linkages, promote inclusive policies and adopt technology and innovation.
Sustainable agriculture is the best investment to combat climate change. Smallholder farms are important to restore the health of our planet. This helps not only the farmers who depend on them for living but also the entire mankind. There exists an unprecedented opportunity to realize this with technology interventions. The adaptable and data driven scalable platforms can connect the farmers to the best practices and markets at reasonable costs, which could lift their livelihoods and provide food security. These empowered farmers can provide safe and nutritional food to the local and global markets and ensure environmental stability.
There is a necessity to understand the challenges and needs of these smallholder farmers , finance them and provide fair economic opportunities to invest in sustainable food production practices.
The World Economic Forum has recently launched its 100 million farmers platform to facilitate stakeholders globally to transform food systems. The collaboration of all the public and private stakeholders along with the farmers on a common platform across the food supply chain should help to scale the efforts to achieve the desired goals.
The silos among the nature, food and climate agendas has to be broken. The farm transitions need to be incentivized to promote prevention of harmful practices like use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Farmers need to adopt regenerative and climate smart agriculture . This will also build a trust ecosystem between players in the value chain and the consumers will be convinced about a safe product.
The change in cropping patterns involves introduction of new crops to add or replace existing crops. Several varieties of single crop species can occupy a common land area incorporating many bean varieties , maize and sorghum that increases harvest potential amid climate stress. Also in regions of alternate dry and wet seasons, there could be a shift from irrigated rice to drought tolerant cash crops.
Plots can be split to follow different practices based on weather changes. Farmers split their rice plots so that half of the rice plot uses conventional wet paddy rice techniques while other half uses a drought resistant . less water intensive cultivation technique called system of rice intensification. This helps to increase chances of harvest even in case of climate extremities.
Soil conservation practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and reduced tillage can help to maintain and improve soil health. Mixed cropping and multi cropping reduces vulnerability to climate and increases soil fertility, crop yields and farm incomes.
Alternate wet and dry irrigation (AWD) techniques help in water conservation. AWD is also less labour-intensive saving costs.
Integrated Pest management involves use of a combination of pest management techniques to guard against infestation and ensuring efficient use of available resources and protecting the surrounding environment and ecosystems.
Livestock is a major contributor to the emission of GHGs. Collection, processing and application of animal manure as crop fertilizers, biogas production helps in manure management and mitigates release of emissions.
Agroforestry is a sustainable agricultural practice that combines trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock. Trees enhance crop diversification and help in soil and water conservation and efficient nutrient cycling.
Sustainable practices help in sequestering carbon and generating carbon credits. Farmers can be incentivized with these carbon credits
As the organizations around the world are racing towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their commitments to net-zero, smallholder farmers will represent the custodians of our food basket.
Farmers in order to realize greener production systems have to embark on unknown territories with degrees of uncertainty. Technology empowers farmers as apart of responsible innovation to address their challenges and needs and enable scaling of agro-ecological approaches. Adoption of precision farm management practices and techniques promotes sustainable agriculture. Farmers can adopt the best practices with optimum use of input resources and feed the large population sustainably. Data driven agriculture with the help of technologies like IoT, Big Data, AI and Blockchain help to increase productivity at reduced costs and thereby assure food security.
The tech revolution and farm management is creating a new ecosystem and changing the way crops are produced and processed from farm to fork.
The real-time data gives farmers a better understanding of their crop production activities and enable them to take informed decisions. These insights help to streamline their operations and improve the sustainable metrics.
TraceX’s Farm Management solutions powered by blockchain technology provides end to end visibility of food supply chains with pre-harvest and post-harvest modules along with end to end traceability. Tracing the crops back to their origin along with monitoring of the sustainable practices and tracking the processing and downstream activities brings transparency into the food ecosystem which is a pre-requisite for sustainable food production.
TraceX works with companies and farmer organizations helping them in adopting traceability and sustainability solutions to build sustainable food systems. It leverages the power of blockchain to bring in transparency and accountability in food production systems.
Agroecological approaches is a key to achieve nature positive production at scale and provide a critical pathway to integrate nature and agriculture in a mutually beneficial way to design resilient food systems. Agricultural technologies have the potential to increase yields and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Technology will shape the farms of future assuring both the grower and consumer a better, safer and sustainable future.