The number, size, and distribution of farms, smallholder farms, and family farms worldwide
This article (PDF) in World Development scrutinizes the link between farm size and farmland distribution and its contribution to food security, reduction of poverty and decreasing inequality. Many advocates emphasize the importance of “smallholder farming” or “family farming”, claiming that smallholders or family farms produce a large share of the world’s food or that the food consumed in Africa and Asia is mainly produced by regional smallholders. However, there is a lack of data on the number of farms, farm size and farmland distribution. This article uses agricultural census data to conclude that there are 570 million farms worldwide, most of which are small and family-operated. Small farms (less than 2 ha) operate about 12% and family farms about 75% of the world’s agricultural land. In addition, average farm size decreased in most low- and lower-middle-income countries, whereas average farm sizes increased in some upper-middle-income countries and in nearly all high-income countries. These estimates of farm distribution provide insights into the share of the world’s food that is produced by either of the two groups. With family farms operating 75% of the world’s agricultural land, it follows that they are likely responsible for the majority of the world’s food and agricultural production. It is implausible that with only 12% of the world’s land, small farms are able to produce a large share of the world’s food, and claims that they do remain unsubstantiated.