Across the Globe: Why Small Farms Matter

We have a farming problem. And by we, I mean nearly every country on Earth. The problem? Small farms are unprofitable to the point where the vast majority of small farmers cannot make a living from farming.

This is clear no matter where one lives. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 82 percent of farmers get the majority of their income from off-farm sources. In other words, the bulk of their money and living expenses don’t come from growing and selling food. 

It’s just as true around the world: The United Nations reported that non-farm income in Asia and Africa provides the majority of income for rural families, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, only 10 to 20 percent of rural communities get more than three-fourths of their income from on-farm activities. 

This may seem irrelevant, but it’s not. Farms mean food, and with the global population at seven billion and rising, food security needs to be given higher priority. Although the problem is global, it manifests itself in different ways around the globe. 

In Africa and Asia, it holds back economies and is a major source of poverty. In those two continents, most food is provided by small farms. In 2013, the Huffington Post reported that 80 percent of the farms in Africa and 88 percent of the farms in Asia are categorized as small — less than five acres. And those farms are poor. 

According to Huffington Post, 800 million people living below the global poverty line work in the agricultural sector. If we want to work on raising the standard of living and eradicating poverty — which is a U.N. Global Goal for 2030 — we have to improve the conditions of small farmers. 

Furthermore, loss of profit for small farms is causing many to close, meaning large farmers only grow bigger. The USDA reported that between 1997 and 2012, the number of large farms grew 120 percent while mid-sized farms fell 19 percent. The U.S. is in desperate need of workers in this field, but with small farms being unprofitable, the opposite is happening, leaving fewer people to grow food for the growing American population. 

Although this affects areas around the globe, the solution is uniform. To help small farmers anywhere in the world, I suggest a three-part plan of attack. 

First, we should make it cheaper and legally more accessible for small farmers to own the land they are farming. Many own the tools but not the land, resulting in higher costs and less profit. Second, we should subsidize agricultural methods that increase yield. This will make it cheaper for small farmers to bring in more profit (and food). 

Lastly, we need more farmer’s markets around the globe. The more corporate ladders farmers must go through to sell their food, the less profit for them. With this plan, small farmers can have easier lives and hopefully the rest of us will get more opportunities to eat their delicious food.