Back to search

First map of smallholder farms in the developing world: They produce more than half the planet’s food calories

‘Researchers at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE), United States, have used household census data to map smallholder farms in developing countries.

‘Despite the fact that smallholder and family farms are crucial to feeding the planet, little is known regarding the location and size of smallholder farms. This study attempts to fill this knowledge gap.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Read the whole article at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment: Researchers produce first-ever map of farming households across world, 29 Nov 2016.

‘Smallholder and family farms are crucial to feeding the planet, and successful policies aimed at alleviating poverty, boosting food security and protecting biodiversity and natural resources depend on the inclusion and participation of small farmers. However, despite the recent spotlight on small farms and increasing consensus on their importance, detailed information on location and size of smallholder farms is virtually absent. Small farms exist in some of the planet’s most diverse landscapes and are home to many of the planet’s most vulnerable people, and yet we have very little information about them.

‘A new study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment attempts to fill this crucial knowledge gap using household census data made available by the Minnesota Population Center to identify and map smallholder farms in developing countries. The study was published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

‘“This map is a first step toward a better understanding of where and how smallholder farming can be sustainable for both landscapes and livelihoods,” said Leah Samberg, lead author of the new study and scientist with IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative.

‘Among the key features of the study:

  • This study is the first product to use household data to map farming populations and average farm sizes across much of the world. It uses census data from millions of households in dozens of countries to identify farming households.
  • It identifies more than 900 places in 83 countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America where there are fewer than 5 hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These places are likely to be home to a high concentration of small farms and are farmed by more than 380 million households.
  • These 900 smallholder hot spots are key sources of many globally important agricultural commodities. For example, they produce more than three-quarters of the planet’s rice and oil palm.
  • These smallholder systems produce more than half of the planet’s food calories and convert more than 70 percent of the calories produced directly into the food that people eat.
  • Read this review of the newly published study on the University of Minnesota’s website: IonE researchers produce first-ever map of farming households across world, 29 Nov 2016.

    Read the scientific paper published in Environmental Research Letters: Subnational distribution of average farm size and smallholder contributions to global food production, by Leah Samberg, University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE), James Gerber1 (IonE), Navin Ramankutty (University of British Columbia), Mario Herrero (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, formerly of the International Livestock Research Institute [ILRI]) and Paul West (IonE), 30 Nov 2016.