Smallholder family farmers are people working in any area of agriculture who derive a significant portion of their income from farming, involve members of the family in managing the farm and rely predominantly on family labour. These farms vary in size, ranging from 0.25 hectares to 10 hectares depending on region, crop and availability of land. Family farms are a global phenomenon. In fact, family farming is the dominant model of agriculture, and its prevalence across areas with diverse levels of development, farm size, capital/land/labour ratios, crops and products, and ecology suggests that family farming offers specific comparative advantages.
Smallholder family farmers produce four fifths of the developing world’s food. These women and men are key contributors to global food security, custodians of vital natural resources and biodiversity, and central to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Despite this reality, they remain a largely untapped resource, and are disproportionately represented among the world’s poor people. The potential economic and social returns to investing in them are enormous.
IFAD has always recognized this. Awareness of the wide-ranging potential returns of investing in smallholder family farmers was one of the main rationales behind the establishment of IFAD in 1977 as the only United Nations specialized agency and international financial institution focusing exclusively on agricultural and rural development. It is why IFAD has, over the course of decades, invested over US$15 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries through projects empowering more than 410 million rural people to break out of poverty, thereby helping to create vibrant rural communities. Continued – and in fact heightened – investment in smallholder family farming is essential to reaching the future we want.