With the worsening of the global food crisis, general international agreement has emerged regarding the importance of smallholder agriculture in the battle against hunger and poverty. However, public debate has been highly restricted and increasingly dominated by conventional, market-led, and corporate approaches to aid and agricultural development. These positions call for a return to the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round, a new “Green Revolution” and the spread of biotechnology to the countries of the Global South. In global and national policy circles, these “business as usual” approaches are eclipsing many proven, highly effective, farmer-driven agroecological and redistributive approaches to agricultural development.
Sustainable, smallholder agriculture represents the best option for resolving the fourfold food-finance-fuel and climate crises. Although conventional wisdom assumes small family farms are backward and unproductive, agroecological research has shown that given a chance, small farms are much more productive than large farms. Small, ecological farms help cool the planet and provide many important ecosystem services; they are a reservoir for biodiversity, and are less vulnerable to pests, disease and environmental shock.
Just as small farms can be more productive and environmentally beneficial, there is also strong evidence that small farm communities can be far superior to large, mechanised operations for improving rural livelihoods. However, this potential is thwarted because smallholders are systematically disenfranchised of their basic human rights and dispossessed of their wealth and basic resources. If smallholders are to be the social and productive base for ending hunger in the Global South, then the rights of smallholders especially women—must be ensured. Ensuring smallholder rights and the equitable distribution of resource entitlements in the countryside not only implies increasing the levels of aid and investment flowing to smallholders, it implies the redistribution of public investment in agriculture, including land reform.
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