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Smallholders produce one-third of the world’s food, less than half of what many headlines claim

Lowder, S. K., Skoet, J., & Raney, T. (2016). The number, size, and distribution of farms, smallholder farms, and family farms worldwide. World De

  • Lowder, S. K., Skoet, J., & Raney, T. (2016). The number, size, and distribution of farms, smallholder farms, and family farms worldwide. World Development, 87, 16-29.

  • Ricciardi, V., Mehrabi, Z., Wittman, H., James, D., & Ramankutty, N. (2021). Higher yields and more biodiversity on smaller farms. Nature Sustainability, 1-7.

  • Wolfenson, K. D. M. (2013). Coping with the food and agriculture challenge: smallholders’ agenda. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome.

  • FAO, 2014. The State of Food and Agriculture 2014: Innovation in Family Farming Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  • The first UN report to make this claim seems to cite a 2009 report by the environmental activist organization, ETC group. It made the claim that ‘peasants’ grow at least 70% of the world’s food. How they got to this figure is not clear.

    The UN FAO has also built many policy reports around this claim. The UN FAO declared 2014 the ‘Year of Family Farming’ with a focus on developing agricultural policies and support mechanisms for smallholder farmers. It later launched the UN decade of family farming, which runs from 2019 to 2028. What the definition of a ‘family farm’ is, is not clear.

    One of the Sustainable Development Goals: Target 2.3 is to “Double the productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers” by 2030. The Paris climate agreement includes important clauses on mitigation and adaptation support for small-scale farmers.

    The National Geographic repeated it. Even the multinational company, Bayer, used it to make similar claims. Not only has it been repeated, its definition has also been stretched along the way. Sometimes it’s defined as smallholder farms; other times as ‘family farms’; sometimes as food or crop production; and other times as agricultural land.

    References:

    ETC -group, 2009. Who Will Feed Us? Questions for the Food and Climate Crises.

    Wolfenson, K. D. M. (2013). Coping with the food and agriculture challenge: smallholders’ agenda. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome.

    FAO, 2014. The State of Food and Agriculture 2014: Innovation in Family Farming Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  • Ricciardi, V., Ramankutty, N., Mehrabi, Z., Jarvis, L., & Chookolingo, B. (2018). How much of the world’s food do smallholders produce?. Global Food Security, 17, 64-72.

  • Ricciardi, V., Ramankutty, N., Mehrabi, Z., Jarvis, L., & Chookolingo, B. (2018). An open-access dataset of crop production by farm size from agricultural censuses and surveys. Data in brief, 19, 1970-1988.

  • This is the universal standard for smallholder farms, but of course, two hectares is a somewhat arbitrary cut-off.

  • The authors provide confidence intervals of 28% to 31%.

  • Ricciardi, V., Mehrabi, Z., Wittman, H., James, D., & Ramankutty, N. (2021). Higher yields and more biodiversity on smaller farms. Nature Sustainability, 1-7.

  • The authors provide confidence intervals of 30% to 34%.

  • Herrero, M., Thornton, P. K., Power, B., Bogard, J. R., Remans, R., Fritz, S., … & Havlík, P. (2017). Farming and the geography of nutrient production for human use: a transdisciplinary analysis. The Lancet Planetary Health, 1(1), e33-e42.

    Samberg, L. H., Gerber, J. S., Ramankutty, N., Herrero, M., & West, P. C. (2016). Subnational distribution of average farm size and smallholder contributions to global food production. Environmental Research Letters, 11(12), 124010.

    Graeub, B. E., Chappell, M. J., Wittman, H., Ledermann, S., Kerr, R. B., & Gemmill-Herren, B. (2016). The state of family farms in the world. World Development, 87, 1-15.

  • Lowder, S. K., Sánchez, M. V., & Bertini, R. (2021). Which farms feed the world and has farmland become more concentrated?. World Development, 142, 105455.

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