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Small Farms’ Large Benefits

ROME – As drought becomes increasingly common, farmers worldwide are struggling to maintain crop yields. In the United States, farmers are experiencing the most severe drought in more than a half-century. As a result, global corn, wheat, and soybean prices rose in July and August, and remain high.

But the severe dry spell parching croplands across the US is only the latest in a global cycle of increasingly frequent and damaging droughts. In Africa’s Sahel region, millions of people are facing hunger for the third time since 2005. Lack of rain in the region and volatile global food prices have made a bad situation worse. Indeed, it is the world’s poor – particularly those in rural areas – that suffer the most from these combined factors.

This does not bode well for our future. By 2050, global food production will have to increase by 60% to meet demand from a growing world population with changing consumption habits. To ensure food security for all, we will have to increase not just food production, but also availability, especially for those living in developing countries. That means breaking down barriers and inequalities, building capacity, and disseminating knowledge. In Africa, smallholder farmers – who provide 80% of the sub-Saharan region’s food – need infrastructure for agricultural development, including irrigation and roads, as well as better market organization and access to technology.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development sees enormous potential in Africa’s agricultural sector, which experienced 4.8% growth in 2009, compared to 3.8% in the Asia-Pacific region and only 1.4% in Latin America and the Caribbean. Given that agriculture amounts to roughly 30% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, and accounts for more than 60% of employment in most African countries, the sector’s development could reduce poverty in the region substantially.