We need to help smallholder farmers become a bigger part of the solution to food security

Robert Zoellick ("Free markets can still feed the world") rightly acknowledges smallholder farms as part of the solution to food security. The Rural Poverty Report 2011, issued by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), makes it clear how important they are.

In many developing countries a majority of smallholder farmers are net food buyers, and rural households make up a substantial majority of the world’s 900 million-plus hungry. Helping smallholders to increase their productivity and marketed supply is thus perhaps the most important thing that can be done to reduce the number of hungry people in the world. Yet we also know that many smallholder farmers are facing growing difficulties – soil erosion, declining soil fertility, salination of arable lands, growing scarcity of water, and increasingly volatile and uncertain weather patterns – and these are undermining agricultural production in large parts of the developing world.

So yes, we need to help smallholder farmers become a bigger part of the solution to food security, but that needs to go hand-in-hand with also helping them to farm in a way that is more sustainable in its use of the natural resource base, and more resilient to the ever-growing impacts of climate change. It's a challenge that is given added urgency by the need to feed a global population that will likely exceed 9 billion by the year 2050. The alternative is continued hunger, mass migration and a threat to the social stability of many developing countries.

Download the Rural Poverty Report 2011