SALSA – Small farms, small food businesses and sustainable food and nutrition security

SALSA research project aims to provide a better understanding of the current and potential contribution of small farms and food businesses to sustainable food and nutrition security in 25 regions of Europe and five in Africa. FAO’s main role is to coordinate the communications and joint learning of the project, and assist linking research work on enabling policies to FAO SP1 work.

#WorldFoodDay 2020: FAO and SALSA celebrate #smallfarmers as #FoodHeroes

This year FAO celebrates World Food Day 2020 (16 October) during an exceptional time as many countries are dealing with the widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. World Food Day is an opportunity to call for global cooperation and solidarity to help all populations, and especially the most vulnerable to build back better. It is also an occasion to have conversations about everyone’s role in transforming our food systems and the way we produce, transport, consume and avoid wasting our food during this crisis.

According to the findings of the SALSA project, supported by FAO’s Research and Extension Unit, small farms and food businesses play a key role in filling the gaps that exist in food supply chains, including land use, local varieties and market channels. They also contribute to the alleviation of rural poverty, whilst delivering environmental and social benefits. Small farms contribute sustainably to regional and local access to fresh nutritious food.

The SALSA project joins FAO in celebrating small farmers and food businesses, our unsung #FoodHeroes that, throughout the crisis, have made sure that food makes its way from the farm to our tables.

What the project does

The four-year project involves a consortium of 16 European and African partners that include universities, research institutions and farmers’ organizations. SALSA partners are collaborating in assessing the role of small farms and small food businesses in delivering a sustainable and secure supply of affordable, nutritious and culturally adequate food.

SALSA is being implemented through an integrated multi-method approach in 30 regions in Europe and Africa, using the most recent satellite technologies, transdisciplinary approaches, food systems mapping and participatory foresight analysis in order to produce evidence based policy recommendations. 

Using these tools, the project takes a food systems perspective in understanding the role of small farms and small food businesses for household, rural and urban food security. SALSA also seeks to understand the role of small food businesses and other key actors in the ability of small farms to remain integrated in regional markets and therefore to maintain and enhance their contribution to food and nutrition security.

The SALSA project is funded by the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 of the European Union, which is gratefully acknowledged by all SALSA partners.

Inside the project: the production of food system maps

Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) is typically analysed from a consumption perspective.  However, the SALSA project has adopted a more holistic, food system approach that examines the role of small farms in FNS in the context of both production and consumption.

SALSA researchers have collected data from 30 selected Reference Regions in Europe and Africa through a combination of desk work and by interviewing experts of regional food systems, small-scale farmers and representatives of small food businesses.

Detailed regional food system maps have been produced and validated in Focus Groups and regional workshops with local farmers and small food businesses. This research approach is allowing researchers to compare very diverse food systems from different regions and to develop more comprehensive recommendations for maintaining and enhancing the contribution of small farms and small food businesses to food and nutrition security.


The main actions are organized in “work packages” (WP). More details can be found here:

WP1. Transdisciplinary theory building and analytical framework

WP1. Transdisciplinary theory building and analytical framework

In WP1, we further refine the conceptual framework for the research, and the related analytical framework. This is achieved through an innovative transdisciplinary theory-building process, which integrates academic with expert and lay knowledge, in order to assess the theoretical perspectives, and identify the most important questions for future development. In our work, we refer to a number of relevant theoretical frameworks in order to provide a more solid basis for all analysis. Most frameworks can support particular elements to the analysis, none is sufficient on its own.

  • Chayanovian models stress the trade-off between need for income and drudgery related to work (Schmitt 1992; van der Ploeg 2013);
  • Models inspired by Polany highlight how market and non-market logic (such as reciprocity and redistribution) are mobilized in reaction to specific situations (Brookfield & Parson 2007);
  • Neo-classical models exploit the concept of marginal utility of family labour to explain the mix of on-farm, off-farm and hired labour;
  • Sustainable livelihood approaches underline the multiple sources of livelihood and the role of ‘vulnerability context’ (Ellis 1988);
  • Farming system approaches investigate the implications of multiple feedbacks between so-cial, economic and environmental subsystems (Darnhofer et al. 2010);
  • Actor-network approaches study the role of non-human factors in social organization, in so-cial change and in innovation (Brunori & Rossi 2000; Knickel et al. 2004).

The resulting analytical framework supports all subsequent WPs. The initial conceptual framework, in turn, is revised at a later stage in the light of the empirical analysis.

WP Leader: Universita di Pisa (UNI

WP2. Estimation of small farms distribution and production potential

WP2. Estimation of small farms distribution and production potential

The FAO (2014) estimates that there are at least 570 million farms in the world, and that over 90% of them (> 500 million) are family farms. The vast majority of family farms are small; around 94% of the world’s farms are less than 5 ha (FAO 2014), and many cover less than 2 ha (Lowder et al. 2014). One of the main difficulties in assessing the (actual or potential) productive capacity of small farms is that small farms are often under the radar of official records and statistics. SALSA uses an experimental and highly novel analytical approach that combines the most recent advances in satellite technology (using data from the SENTINEL-2 satellite) with Eurostat and national agricultural statistics, land cover data and key informant interviews, in order to provide a detailed picture of the numbers, distribution, and estimated production capacity of small farms in the reference regions.

With this work package SALSA aims to develop a useful methodology for monitoring the productive capacity of small farms thanks tothe capabilities and usefulness of the Sentinel-2 satellite to generate data about the distribution of small farms, acreage, types of crops that they grow and yield estimates.

WP Leader: Universidade de Évora (U Évora)

WP3. In-depth assessment of food systems in 30 reference regions

WP3. In-depth assessment of food systems in 30 reference regions

WP3 plays a central role in SALSA. This WP involves the collection of almost all the primary data that is used in the subsequent WPs. The data is collected from the 30 reference regions – 25 in Europe (where the research funder requires a complete representative sample) and 5 in Africa (for comparative purposes and in order to improve understanding about the more general applicability of this kind of analysis). Each research partner is responsible for covering 2 or 3 regions. Data is collected through carefully targeted interviews with key informants, farmers and focus groups. Itis also complemented with other data collection methods, including the analysis of existing statistics and documentary reviews.

WP3 provides the data needed to carry out an in-depth assessment and analysis of regional food systems in order to determine the current and potential role of small farms and small food businesses in satisfying FNS (WorkPackage4). WP3 research pays particular attention to diversity, complexity, context-specificity of regional food systems and how this influences FNS, as well as the regionally specific connections between local resources, production, processing, retailing and consumption. Last but not least, it also looks into the relationship between small farms and small food businesses with the broader food system.

A detailed map and description of the food system in each region is produced once the results of the in-depth assessment have been validated in regional-level workshops. The outputs of this WP feed into WPs 4-6.

WP Leader: Universidade de Évora (U Évora)

WP4. Participatory foresight analysis

WP4. Participatory foresight analysis

This WP assesses the potential contribution of small farms and small food businesses to FNS in 2030 and 2050, drawing on the information gathered in WPs 2 and 3. The analysis consists of identifying and assessing the main drivers of change affecting SF and SFB which are likely to affect small farms and small food businesses. This is done through participatory foresight workshops that analyse likely scenarios for the development of different regions under different policy contexts. These workshops also assess the main vulnerabilities of SFs and SFBs and their capacity to confront future challenges. To this end, the WP engages stakeholders already involved in WP3, in addition to local SFs and SFBs, together with national-level representatives of institutions (including consumers). The participatory foresight analyses are carried out in a subset of 10-12 SALSA regions (both in Europe and Africa), selected (on the basis of the data collected in WP2 and WP3) as representative of the most typical food systems and situations.

WP Leader: Universitat Politecnica de Valencia (UPV) Spain

WP5. Analysis of the governance of small farmer organization and food chains

WP5. Analysis of the governance of small farmer organization and food chains

This WP studies the governance of food systems in the SALSA reference regions, with a focus on small farms. Governance is a broad concept that includes the formal rules, policies and regulations, as well as the (equally important) informal arrangements, social norms and market characteristics that shape the possibilities and constraints on SFs and SFBs within the reference regions. This analysis is necessary because food system governance regulates the four main food system activities: production, processing, distribution and consumption and thus influences all four dimensions of FNS: access, stability, availability and utilization.

WP5 pays particular attention to the accessibility of public programmes to small farms and small food businesses, the functioning of local food systems, supply chains and networks, the role of private standards, access to national and global markets, and the role of gender and the impact of gender-focused interventions. This WP combines interviews with key informants, workshops and other activities within the reference regions that will generate a unique understanding of regional governance frameworks. The improved understanding of governance mechanisms can be used to help developing more effective governance structures that are better prepared towards future challenges and that place more emphasis on FNS.

WP Leader: The James Hutton Institute (JHI)

WP6. Enabling conditions for small farms and small food businesses

WP6. Enabling conditions for small farms and small food businesses

This work package identifies the enabling conditions that can support small farms and small food businesses to maintain and enhance their contribution to Food and Nutritional Security. It aims to provide evidence-based recommendations, policy, tools and mechanisms based on the synthesis of key findings from previous work packages, as well as a thorough assessment of their needs over the next 20 years. The strategic framework developed by WP6 will be validated by policy makers through four regional workshops in both Europe and Africa. Policy briefs and communication materials will be designed with the aim of helping decision-makers mainstream our evidence-based recommendations into policies at regional, national and global levels.

Given the perfect synchronization of the SALSA project with the 2020 policy agenda reforms in Europe, we will be informing the CAP reform, the activities of the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) and the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD). The findings from our 5 African reference regions facilitate the further development of the Europe-Africa dialogue through the EU Strategy for International Cooperation in Research and Innovation.

WP Leader: Highclere Consulting S.R.L Romania

WP7. Communication and joint learning

WP7. Communication and joint learning

One of the five main objectives and, therefore, a clear priority for SALSA is to strengthen the voice of small farms in the global debate on FNS. WP7 supports all other WPs in enabling and fostering effective communication and joint learning at different levels related to the role of small farms and other small food businesses in FNS. In particular, this WP has initiated and enabled Communities of Practice (CoP) at various levels, as multi-stakeholder learning platforms to consult, validate and move forward the research and enrich the knowledge base on relevant questions.

The WP7 also established an international Expert Stakeholder Panel (ESP) bringing together experts and key stakeholders active and/or potentially relevant in small farms and FNS, which facilitate new links between organizations as well as the organization of a suite of expert consultations, e-conferences and workshops. This WP uses FAO’s online communication and learning systems for SALSA-related communications. Other European and African level networks and platforms of SALSA’s interest include ENRD, ELARD, EIP AGRI, YPARD and PAEPARD.

WP7 initiates and coordinates all interactions with external stakeholders, in close collaboration with WP leaders and the consortium members responsible for each relevant task, in each of the reference regions.

This work package also ensures that the research results obtained in SALSA are disseminated via relevant forums. The interaction with small farmers, rural entrepreneurs engaged in the food sector and their representatives plays an important role throughout the project.

WP7 is also responsible for the project website, the planning and organization of a series of moderated e-mail Conferences (the 1st one, on “Exploring the contribution of small farms to achieving food security and improved nutrition”, took place from 10 to 23 October 2016; the 2nd one, on “The Role of Small Farms Within a Larger Context of Food Security”, took place from 19 March and 9 April 2018), as well as the planning and organization of the final SALSA Conference.

In early 2018 under WP7 an additional channel to raise awareness to the target audiences about SALSA work and events was launched: @SalsaH2020. This Twitter account is coordinated with the @SALSA_WP6 account, focused on the policy part of the project.

WP Leader: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Research and Extension Unit (FAO/AGDR)

Co-leader: Baltic Studies Centre (BSC)

WP8. Project management and coordination

WP8. Project management and coordination

WP8 secures balanced and fruitful results from the project. It is primarily an administrative work package whose main goal is to ensure smooth and effective internal communications and coordination, which is necessary to ensure productive cooperation with external stakeholders. The coordination team supports all the leaders and co-leaders of the WPs in planning and implementing the individual WPs to ensure coherence and consistency of the project’s work. Other tasks within WP8 include maintaining a productive communication flow with the European Commission, coordinating the publication of SALSA’s outputs, managing the information on SALSA’s dedicated website, dealing with copyright issues and ensuring that common procedures (e.g. publication standards) and ethical guidelines are followed.

WP Leader: Universidade de Évora (U Évora)


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