October 31, 2014

The Role of Smallholder Farmers in Ridding the World of Poverty

Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series
By Pierre Paul Audate, MSc Candidate in Development Practice and 2014 Next Generation Delegate
Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, the first UN Millennium Development Goal, is one of the greatest challenges of our generation.  As the 2015 deadline quickly approaches, there’s been uneven progress on this goal, due to endemic inequalities in the developing world. The intersecting nature of such inequalities makes people living in rural areas in developing countries one of the most vulnerable demographic categories.

Smallholder farmers are at an even higher risk of economic inequality, and generally represent the poorest segment of the population in developing countries. Agriculture is the primary source of income for rural populations in developing countries.  But reports show that smallholder farmers are often vulnerable to risks such as drought, hurricanes and price volatility that limit the benefits from agricultural production. Other factors, such as lack of access to land, capital, technology, and markets, make it even harder for smallholder farmers to lift their families out of poverty.

With the increasing pressure on natural resources due to climate change and population growth, small-scale agriculture is one of the best tools to ensure global food security. Small-scale farming has proven sustainability benefits, and studies show that smallholder farmers play an important role in poverty reduction. The question for stakeholders in agricultural development, then, is how to help minimize the risks and maximize the opportunities of small-scale agriculture.

As the world’s population grows, the increasing demand for food could create new economic opportunities in rural areas. Market-driven, sustainable agricultural value chains could help reduce poverty by generating revenue streams for smallholder farmers as well as expanding economic opportunities further along the value chain, such as in the production of value added products or in agriculture extension services. Smallholder farmers should not only be able to feed their families, but should also have the opportunity to access captive markets for their products. Improving farmers’ access to consumer markets has the potential to promote improved development outcomes by generating revenue to cover costs related to education, health and infrastructure. Moreover, market-driven approaches provide opportunities for collaboration between farmers, government bodies, and agribusiness that enable farmers to adopt more sustainable practices.

We must ensure that sustainable agricultural livelihoods, rural employment creation, and nutritious food production are integrated into development policy, programs, and partnerships in order to support smallholder farmers in developing countries. Small-scale farming is merely a way to feed rural families, but also business model that allows smallholder farmers to be economically self-sufficient. Through innovation and collaborative efforts, we can develop effective relationships along the value chain to create opportunities to lift people out of poverty.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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