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Small farmers produce much of the developing world's food. Yet they are generally much poorer than the rest of the population in these countries, and are less food secure than even the urban poor. Furthermore, although the majority of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2030, farming populations will not be much smaller than they are today. For the foreseeable future, therefore, dealing with poverty and hunger in much of the world means confronting the problems that small farmers and their families face in their daily struggle for survival.

Investment priorities and policies must take into account the immense diversity of opportunities and problems facing small farmers. The resources on which they draw, their choice of activities, indeed the entire structure of their lives,are linked inseparably to the biological, physical, economic and cultural environment in which they find themselves and over which they only have limited control. While every farmer is unique, those who share similar conditions also often share common problems and priorities that transcend administrative or political borders.

These broad patterns of similar production systems, practices and external conditions are used in this book as a basis for defining more than 70 major farming systems throughout the six developing regions of the world. While recognizing the heterogeneity that inevitably exists within such broad systems, it is a central tenet of this book that the farming systems approach, as used here, offers a useful framework for understanding the needs of those living within a system, the likely challenges and opportunities that they will face over the next thirty years, and the relative importance of different strategies for escaping from poverty and hunger.

To offer a basis for comparative analysis, this book looks in detail at some 20 farming systems that are judged to have the greatest potential for poverty and hunger reduction and economic growth in the next few decades. They are considered in the light of five possible broad household strategies for escape from poverty and hunger: (a) intensification of production; (b) diversification of agricultural activities for increased output value; (c) increased farm size; (d) expansion in off-farm income; and (e) complete exit or departure from the farming system. The book asks the crucial question: What are likely to be the most successful strategies for small farmers in each system, and what sort of initiatives can best help farmers to realize them?

The material for this book is derived from a study originally undertaken at the request of the World Bank in order to provide a specifically agricultural perspective to the revision of the Bank's Rural Development Strategy. It has drawn on many years of specialised work within FAO and the World Bank, as well as in a number of other national and international institutions. Findings were supported by more than 20 case studies from around the world which analysed innovative approaches to small farm or pastoral development. This book is intended for a wider audience than the original study, and it is hoped that policy makers, researchers, NGOs and the agribusiness sector will all find its conclusions and recommendations interesting and thought provoking; and that they will carry the analysis further by applying the approach at national level to assist in the formulation of rural development strategies.

Jacques Diouf

James D. Wolfensohn



Food and Agriculture Organization

World Bank Group

of the United Nations


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