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Smallholder farmers are generally defined as farmers cultivating less than two hectares of land. Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people get their food and income from farming these small plots.i Productivity on these plots in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is extremely low compared to the rest of the world, in terms of both yield and labor.

Size/Magnitude of Problem

Improving agricultural productivity while conserving and enhancing natural resources is essential for farmers to increase global food supplies on a sustainable basis. Low productivity undermines potential food production, stifles income growth, and keeps many farming families impoverished, hungry, and undernourished. The success of developing countries in increasing agricultural productivity will have global implications in strengthening the resilience of food markets, enhancing food security, improving well-being and promoting sustainability.

  • 475 million small farmsii produce about 80% of the food consumed in much of the developing worldiii and an additional 290 million people’s livelihoods rely on the agricultural value chain. iv
  • Agricultural production would need to grow globally by 60% (almost 100% in developing countries) by 2050 to feed the growing population. This does not include demand for crops as feedstock by the biofuel sector.v
Desired Equilibrium

Agricultural productivity has increased in developing countries to reach levels consistent with wealthier nations, increasing global food security while agricultural land is sustainably managed. All smallholder farmers are able to utilize advanced farming techniques and resources. Due to increases in yield and income, they no longer suffer from undernourishment or poverty.

Ways Skoll social entrepreneurs are addressing the issue:
  • Directly selling or providing inputs products and technical assistance to smallholders to achieve higher crop yield (International Development Enterprises-India, Kickstart, One Acre Fund, Proximity Designs, Root Capital, Roots of Peace)
  • Facilitating smallholder financial security and growth through loans, bank accounts, and financing for agricultural inputs (Kiva, One Acre Fund, Proximity Designs, Root Capital)
  • Solidifying smallholders’ stakes in property, opening the gate for greater investment in their land (Landesa)
  • Efficiently operating multiple steps in the agriculture supply chain to achieve cost savings, fair working conditions, and higher wages (Fair Trade USA, One Acre Fund)

1 The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Agricultural Development Strategy Overview)
1 CGAP (link)
2 Food and Agriculture Organization (The State of Food and Agriculture 2014)
3 Rockefeller Foundation (Waste and Spoilage in the Food Chain)
4 Food and Agriculture Organization The State of Food and Agriculture 2014)

Critical Geographies
Cereal Yield

As defined by World Bank (< 800kg/hectare)
Cabo Verde, Cyprus, Botswana, Namibia, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Eritrea, Vanuatu, Sudan, Mozambique, Somalia, Gambia, Lesotho, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe

Fertilizer Consumption

As defined by World Bank (< 5kg/hectare)
Gambia, Niger, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Samoa, Uganda, Republic of the Congo, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Madagascar, Libya, Tanzania