Sustainability Pathways

Smallholders' ecology

Out of the 2.5 billion people in poor countries living directly from the food and agriculture sector, 1.5 billion people live in smallholder households. Smallholders provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asian and sub-Saharan Africa. They contribute to diversified landscape and through their everyday activities, generate income and rural livelihoods through food and non-food production. They manage land, water and biodiversity resources and through their practices, affect ecosystem services, such as water flows and purification, pollination, pest and disease regulation and carbon and other materials flow.

From the subsistence, market-marginalized Pacific farmers, to the half million successful commercial organic exporters in Africa, smallholders’ viability rely on farming with nature. Rather than working against Nature by fighting individual problems after they have occurred, smallholders tend to prevent problems by implementing practices referred to as agroecological, organic or regenerative. Their systems are based on diversification and associations of plants and animals, including agroforestry, crop-livestock and rice-fish systems. Smallholder’ practices are not based on agronomic and technological fixes, but rather on promoting ecological processes that boost food production. They observe and act upon inter-dependency between what is being produced, the soil that nurtures all beings and associated biodiversity. The approach taken integrates approaches and knowledge pertaining to the social and natural spheres, as the agro-ecosystem is viewed as a socio-ecological unit, or an organism.

Traditional farming, pastoralism, artisanal fishing and community forestry have empirically demonstrated their potential to reach sustainability. This is because smallness has an inherent adaptive capacity to economic, environmental and societal changes. If supported, or at least not hindered in their constant efforts, smallholders hold the promise to achieve the dual goal of food security and the conservation of the global good that underlies our existence. Small is not always beautiful but smallness can become rewarding with self-reliance for sustenance and generational responsibility. Smallholders’ ecology pursue this path. Smallholders' organizations were active in raising their voices at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio in June 2012. Their views and their actions are reflected here.

TECA, the online interactive platform for sharing and exchanging innovative practices for small agricultural producers, facilitates access to practical agricultural information that can benefit small producers around the world. In 2015, a Training Manual for Organic Agriculture was produced. 




-   Is site-specific and its performance is due to not the techniques per se, but rather the ecological processes that underlie sustainability. It avoids dependence on external inputs, emphasizing use of agro-diversity and beneficial synergies;

-   Is a culturally acceptable approach, as it builds upon traditional and indigenous knowledge in improving agro-biodiversity and local natural resources while increasing food availability and improving nutrition;

-   Is socially beneficial, as its diffusion requires constant farmers participation and community building;

-   Is a promoter of processes of governance as it is built on higher and better participation and decision-making  mechanism, social empowerment, inclusiveness and locally adequate measures and approaches;

-   Is ecologically sound, as it does not attempt to modify the flows of energy and nutrients of existing systems, but rather tries to optimize their performance through adaptation;

-   Is economically beneficial, as it increases the real value of capital input, while constituting a big source of income and jobs for farmers and families, thus reducing poverty.