When we think of farms, most of us picture never-ending fields of golden wheat or maize. Yet these vast farms are not anything like most farms worldwide. In North and Central America, approximately one third of farms are quite small – one or two hectares – and nearly half are less than five hectares. Globally, 75 per cent of farms cover less than two hectares, and 95 per cent of farms cover less than five hectares.
USC Canada’s work focuses on supporting the people who farm small plots of land such as these.
It is estimated that small-scale farmers (sometimes called “smallholder farmers” or “family farmers”) produce 70 per cent of the world’s food – and upwards of 80 per cent in Asia and Africa. And they produce it on less than 25 per cent of the Earth’s arable land.
In other words, small-scale farmers feed the world.
Small-scale farms also tend to be less environmentally destructive, nurture higher levels of biodiversity and provide more employment per acre than large farms. But small-scale farmers face a daunting set of challenges.
From corporate power over agriculture and government policy geared toward large-scale industrial farming, to climate change, farming communities are facing increasing pressure on every continent.
Guardians of biodiversity
Small-scale farmers are also the guardians of agricultural diversity and important genetic resources. Whereas large scale farms tend to grow vast swaths of a single crop (called monocultures) and require lots of costly inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, small-scale farmers plant a multitude of crop varieties in the same field — a technique known as intercropping. This allows them to nurture and sustain a wide diversity of food plants adapted to their local conditions. By saving their best seeds to exchange with others and sow the next year, these knowledgeable farmers also guide crops to co-evolve with nature and adapt gradually to changing growing conditions. By supporting small-scale farmers we not only build community, but also preserve the environment on which our food systems rely.