Smallholder farming is the most prevalent form of agriculture in the world, supports many of the planet’s most vulnerable populations, and coexists with some of its most diverse and threatened landscapes.
918 subnational units in 83 countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and East Asia average less than five hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These smallholder-dominated systems are home to more than 380 million farming households, make up roughly 30% of the agricultural land and produce more than 70% of the food calories produced in these regions, and are responsible for more than half of the food calories produced globally, as well as more than half of global production of several major food crops.
Units of high-density smallholder farming across these 83 countries are responsible for 41% of total global calorie production, and 53% of the global production of food calories for human consumption.
Within these 83 countries, units with less than five hectares of agricultural land per farming household contribute 70% of food calories produced. . . .
Within the 83 countries studied, subnational units with MAA of five hectares or less account for more than half of the production by mass of eight staple crops: rice, groundnut, cassava, millet, wheat, potato, maize, barley, and rye; illustrating the specific importance of smallholder production for food security.
Other assessments, such as one by Herrero et al, have shown that 50% of global cereal production occurs in the developing world, including 86% of rice and 67% of millet. Our results indicate that areas of high-density smallholder agriculture account for much of this staple crop production.
More than half of food calories produced globally come from subnational units in the developing world where the density of farming households is very high, averaging less than five hectares per farming household, offering support to frequently cited statistics about the contribution of small or family farms.
Two-thirds of the developing world’s three billion rural people live on farms less than two hectares, and these farms are home to half of the planet’s undernourished population and the majority of people living in absolute poverty.