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Whether they are cultivating poultry in Kenya, cardamom in Guatemala or goats in India, smallholder farmers are uniquely positioned as agents of community change — and they’re actively building a future in which food is available, income is steady, and lives free from poverty are possible.
What is a smallholder farmer?
A smallholder farmer, typically a family-owned enterprise, operates on a limited scale, cultivating land up to 10 hectares (24 acres) in the developing world. Most smallholder farmers work less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land. They often rely on family labor and retain part of their harvest for household consumption. This group, also known as “small-scale farmers,” encompasses both landowners and non-landowners.
Lidia Maribel, proud member of the Tuumben Kooben Cooperative, used to face significant challenges, much like many rural women in Mexico. Now, she is part of a powerful group of women who support their families. “This project has changed our lives. We are strong women. Together, we overcome fears and move forward.
Small with great impact
Though the land smallholders work and the total quantity they produce may be dwarfed by their larger, industrial counterparts, their impact on the world is anything but minimal: According to recent research, farms smaller than 5 acres produce roughly 35% of the world’s food, and smallholders provide up to 80% of the food supply in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Heifer works with smallholders to fortify the connection between food security and resilient communities. When smallholder farmers produce a higher quality and quantity of food, they can earn more income, better feed their families and provide more food for the local marketplace — reducing prices and improving diets.
Important role for women
In the countries where Heifer operates, nearly half of the farmers are women. However, they often do not have the same opportunities as men when it comes to access to education, loans, and agricultural materials. Yet, matters such as health and nutrition within families heavily depend on mothers. Women play a crucial role, one that Heifer strengthens.
Budhini Hansda, a mother of two children in India, said: “I recently attended a training session on healthy nutrition and realized that my children and I need different food. That’s why I now ensure that a balanced meal is served on the table every day.”
Smallholder farmers face a host of challenges on account of their size and often remote and rural location, which hinder their ability to grow a prosperous business and provide food for their families. Many lack access to credit, formal markets and high-quality inputs like seeds, farming equipment or medicine to keep their animals healthy.
Limited economic influence and access to finance on account of their size is a major barrier for the world’s smallholders, said Oscar. “We help small-scale farmers overcome this obstacle by working through co-ops as a vehicle to organize technical assistance and organize access to capital.”
When smallholder farmers organize — into agricultural cooperatives, associations, self-help and women’s groups — they increase their access to markets, can participate more equitably in local value chains, and bolster their bargaining power to earn more for their goods.
Maria Irene Beb Catun from Guatemala brings the flavor of her own cultivated cocoa and almonds to life with delicious powder drink mixes. She sells the powder to neighbors and nearby businesses.