Looking at smallholder farmers and sustainable productivity

Modern agricultural practices and new technologies in many cases have yet to reach small and very small farmers for various reasons, according to a recent Next Billion blog post. Among other issues, these smallholder farmers are faced with a lack of cash, unpredictable personal circumstances or a lack of safety net, should a harvest fail. There are certain companies and organizations that are making efforts to increase the livelihood of these smallholder farmers, by sourcing produce from them or selling products to them.

A recent study by consulting firm Hystra, “Smallholder Farmers and Business: 15 Pioneering Collaborations for Improved Productivity and Sustainability,” compares the performance of 15 companies and organizations worldwide who are pioneering this movement. Key findings from the report include:

  • Farmers can increase their net yearly incomes by 80% to 140% when they have access to productivity-enhancing technologies, including improved seeds, micro-irrigation systems or improved cow breeds. Notably, other interventions, which focused solely on “fixing” dysfunctional markets and redistributing value in the supply chain, only resulted in a 20% to 60% increase in income for farmers;
  • Smallholder farmers, commonly thought to be risk averse to new practices and technologies, in reality, aren’t. What is important to them is being able to reverse their decision, should they change their mind;
  • Early adopters of such development programs are found within the “enlightened” middle – farmers resilient enough to invest in new advancements, but not prosperous enough to be satisfied with the status quo;
  • Offering a wide range of benefits, becoming essential to farmers’ success allows the organization to become irreplaceable, creating a cycle whereby year after year organizations and farmers alike continue to invest in each other; and
  • The decision to work directly with farmers, rather than through an intermediary, can lead to greater success. While not always the case, some intermediaries can lack control and poor proximity.

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