Want to double world food production? Return the land to small farmers

A recent comprehensive survey by GRAIN, examining data from around the world, finds that while small farmers feed the world, they are doing so with just 24% of the world’s farmland – or 17% if you leave out China and India. 

…Only 1% of all farms in the world are larger than 50 hectares, and that these few farms control 65% of the world’s farmland.

…The confusion stems from the way FAO deal with the concept of family farming, which they roughly define as any farm managed by an individual or a household. (They admit there is no precise definition. Various countries, like Mali, have their own.)

Thus, a huge industrial soya bean farm in rural Argentina, whose family owners live in Buenos Aires, is included in FAO’s count of ‘family farms’.

What about sprawling Hacienda Luisita, owned by the powerful Cojuanco family in the Philippines and epicentre of the country’s battle for agrarian reform since decades. Is that a family farm?

Looking at ownership to determine what is and is not a family farm masks all the inequities, injustices and struggles that peasants and other small scale food producers across the world are mired in.

It allows FAO to paint a rosy picture and conveniently ignore perhaps the most crucial factor affecting the capacity of small farmers to produce food: lack of access to land. 

…Small food producers’ access to land is shrinking due a range of forces. One is that because of population pressure, farms are getting divided up amongst family members. Another is the vertiginous expansion of monoculture plantations.

In the last 50 years, a staggering 140 million hectares – the size of almost all the farmland in India – has been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane.

…Other pressures pushing small food producers off their land include the runaway plague of large-scale land grabs by corporate interests. In the last few years alone, according to the World Bank, some 60 million hectares of fertile farmland have been leased, on a long-term basis, to foreign investors and local elites, mostly in the global South.

While some of this is for energy production, a big part of it is to produce food commodities for the global market, instead of family farming.

…The data show that the concentration of farmland in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry every day.

According to one UN study, active policies supporting small producers and agro-ecological farming methods could double global food production in a decade and enable small farmers to continue to produce and utilise biodiversity, maintain ecosystems and local economies, while multiplying and strengthening meaningful work opportunities and social cohesion in rural areas.

Want to double world food production? Return the land to small farmers!

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