Transforming Food Systems with Smallholder Farmers

Agriculture forms the basis of rural economy throughout the world. Small scale farmers, not only the unsung heroes but also the heroines of the world who form half the world’s farmers, provide one third of the global food. 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.
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84% of world’s 570 million farms cover less than 2 hectares and provide one-third of the global food. Small scale 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. 

Small holder Agriculture 

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.

There is a need to transform the agricultural practices not only to reduce the climate impact but also become resilient and make a transition towards nature positive and equitable food systems. 

The potential of smallholder farmers to sustainable agriculture

  • Integrated pest management, minimum tillage farming, drip irrigation could increase farmer productivity and protect the  environment. 
  • Availability of input resources like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, water and other infrastructure 
  • Incentivization to farmers to adopt sustainable practices. 

Erratic weather patterns, shifting temperatures, floods and drought makes farming unpredictable. The increased crop failures have put food systems at risk. Without investment in resilience of small farms to climate change, there will be more crisis in the future. 

Impact of Climate changes 

Smallholder farmers are vulnerable to climate change because they depend on rain-fed agriculture, lack access to technology and finance and need help in following climate resilient agriculture.  

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. High temperatures and drought conditions have impact on biomass production and yields of maize. Farmers depending on rain-fed agriculture face extreme poverty to reduced yields and food insecurity. 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. 

Cereal crops like rice and maize have experienced heat and water stress. According to International Rice research institute (IRRI), rice yields have decreased by 10% for every 1˚C increase in mean temperature. High temperatures also favour development of fungal diseases. The heat stress in livestock results in metabolic changes leading to reduced input feeds and lowering productivity. The water shortage can create water stress in animals. 

There is an urgent need for global community to identify and  adapt measures to help the farmers to reduce the vulnerability due to climate changes and cope with the consequences. 

Farming for the Future 

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. 

Climate – Smart practices 

  • Change in crop patterns 

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. 

  • Change in land management 

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 Management 

Mixed cropping and multi cropping reduces vulnerability to climate and increases soil fertility, crop yields and farm incomes. 

  • Water Management 

Alternate wet and dry irrigation (AWD) techniques help in water conservation. AWD is also less labour-intensive saving costs. 

  • Pest Management 

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 management 

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 

Trees enhance crop diversification and help in soil and water conservation and efficient nutrient cycling. 

  • Carbon credit incentivization 

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. 

Technology Interventions 

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. 

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. 

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