The agricultural economics literature provides various estimates of the number of farms and small farms in the world. This paper is an effort to provide a more complete and up to date as well as carefully documented estimate of the total number of farms in the world, as well as by region and level of income.
It uses data from numerous rounds of the World Census of Agriculture, the only dataset available which allows the user to gain a complete picture of the total number of farms globally and at the country level. The paper provides estimates of the number of family farms, the number of farms by size as well as the distribution of farmland by farm size.
These estimates find that: there are at least 570 million farms worldwide, of which more than 500 million can be considered family farms. Most of the world’s farms are very small, with more than 475 million farms being less than 2 hectares in size. Although the vast majority of the world’s farms are smaller than 2 hectares, they operate only a small share of the world’s farmland. Farmland distribution would seem quite unequal at the global level, but it is less so in low- and lower-middle-income countries as well as in some regional groups.
These estimates have serious limitations and the collection of more up-to-date agricultural census data, including data on farmland distribution is essential to our having a more representative picture of the number of farms, the number of family farms and farm size as well as farmland distribution worldwide.
Since social protection and smallholder agricultural interventions often cover the same geographic space and target the same households, there are opportunities for synergies and complementarities that strengthen livelihoods of poor rural households.
Social protection policies aim to reduce socio-economic risks, vulnerability, extreme poverty and deprivation, while smallholder agricultural policies focus on improving productivity in crops, fisheries, forestry and livestock and access to markets. Both areas of policy are important elements in poverty reduction strategies, but little attention has been paid to the interaction between them and the implications for design and implementation of related policies and programmes.
Poor rural households that mostly rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are often affected by limited access to resources, low agricultural productivity, poorly functioning markets and repeated exposure to risks. Social protection can help alleviate credit, savings and liquidity constraints by providing cash and in-kind support. In addition, the regularity and predictability of social protection instruments help households to manage risks better and to engage in more profitable livelihood and agricultural activities. Agricultural policies and programmes can help smallholder households manage risk by stimulating farm output, income and overall household welfare.
Brief based on the online discussion, held from 4 to 26 February 2013, facilitated by FAO’s Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum) with FAO’s Forestry Department in the context of the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition.