Small farms and diversity

IFPRI has an interesting paper out called The Future of Small Farms for Poverty Reduction and Growth. It makes the point that agricultural development must reach smallholders if it is to have any impact on poverty, and to reach them “the policy agenda … must change to meet the new challenges facing small farms: improv(ing) the workings of markets for outputs, inputs, and financial services to overcome market failures.”

Fair enough, I suppose, but the thing that got me was the almost complete failure to address agricultural biodiversity. Surely there are differences between small and large farms in the biodiversity they maintain. Surely there are differences between small and large farms in their reliance on diversity. Surely there are differences between small and large farms in the role that diversity can play in lifting the families that work on them out of poverty. Maybe, but you won’t hear about it here. Pity.

2 Replies to “Small farms and diversity”

  1. DFID have also produced a policy document arguing the case for greater investment and attention to agricultural development as a prerequisite for greater economic growth and poverty reduction. Adding that impacts on poverty reduction are most significant when the focus is ‘small-farm-first’ (see also ODI blog). But this depends on how far a country is along the ‘development pathway’ and a host of different enabling factors. Much of the evidence comes from the Asian Green Revolution where agricultural productivity increases on labour-intensive, small farms had the greatest impact on poverty reduction. Increased productivity led to higher incomes and a tendency for small farm households to spend this increased income on locally manufactured goods and services which has a strong multiplier effect on demand for other goods and services from other non-agricultural sectors. Studies have shown this impact to be greater for small farms than for larger, capital intensive farms.

    The DFID document also fails to address the role or importance of agrobiodiversity in any of this, and any comparative differences that exist between large and small farms that might be an important element in contributing to poverty reduction. It might be a level of analysis too complex or too detailed for their requirements. They do acknowledge the global historical trend in agrobiodiversity decline and the associated risks this has brought to agricultural production such as increased pest and disease attacks. They also highlight 6 guiding strategies in tackling increased small farm productivity including ‘ensuring sustainability’ and of course small farm biodiversity is an important factor in that. But the questions posed by Luigi in terms of differences in biodiverisity between large and small farms and possible contributions to poverty reduction are very interesting. I am aware of ecological studies that have compared levels of biodiversity between large and small farms and impacts in terms of greater ecological benefits, or ecological services as it is termed in other parts of this blog. Surely there must be studies that have tracked how these ecological, and other benefits, have contributed to reducing poverty.

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