The Smaller Side of Agriculture and Its Importance

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[Synopsis: This article looks at the influence and power of small farmers and the role they play in globalization. It is the goal of this article to prove the need and importance of keeping smaller agricultural operations alive around the world.]


When looking at the relationship between small farmers in the developing world and international agricultural trade, two main questions arise. First, how can small-scale agriculture compete more effectively with imported products, and what degree of trade protection is appropriate? Second, can small-scale farmers take greater advantage of export opportunities, and what are the supply-side and market-access constraints that need to be lifted? This paper attempts to provide some answers, focusing initially on the role of developing-country governments in making small-scale agriculture and related rural industries more productive, sustainable and able to compete in open markets, and then considering the ways in which Northern governments can provide a fairer international marketplace. (Butcher, 2000)

The livelihoods of 2.6 billion people depend on agriculture. Most of them are poor farming families in the developing world. The absolute number is increasing, though they comprise a declining share of the total population. In the least-developed countries in 1996, 73% of the workforce was engaged in agricultural activities, the great majority of them poor smallholders and laborers. For developing countries as a whole, the figure was 59%. Small-scale agriculture is not small in aggregate terms, accounting for much more employment and staple food production than larger commercial concerns, though the latter are dominant in food and other commodity trade. It is inconceivable, for the foreseeable future, that the cities, or commercial agriculture, could offer employment to the vast numbers of poor people in the countryside. For this reason alone, due attention to small-scale agriculture is essential for progress towards the OECD development targets for poverty reduction and sustainability. (Butcher, 2000)

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