Industries in Depth

The world's smallest farms feed more people than you might think, research shows

A worker harvests grapes in a vineyard.  REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Small farms worldwide contribute to the majority of crops produced, like this worker who is harvesting grapes with little space or machinery. Image: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol - RC2WUP97XXRE

Florian Zandt
Data Journalist, Statista
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SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

  • 81% of global crops are grown on farms less than 199 hectares.
  • China leads the world production of rice, wheat and many vegetables and operates mainly small farms, to supply its own growing population
  • Big farms have a minority share in crop production, only contributing to 5% of worldwide crop growth.

84 percent of a total of estimated 570 million farms worldwide were cultivating less than two hectares of agricultural land in 2018. Due to the low labor productivity and grueling work conditions on small farms, their yield stands in stark contrast to their total numbers: Only 29 percent of the global production of crops for food, animal feed and fuel come from land cultivated by smallholders according to Our World in Data. As our chart shows, most of the crops still are generated on farms smaller than 200 hectares or 500 acres though.

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Roughly 81 percent of all food, feed and fuel crops were grown on farms of up to 199 hectares. Taking into account the average farm sizes of the biggest crop producing countries in the world, this number becomes less surprising. China leads the world production of rice, wheat and many vegetables and operates mainly small farms, often smaller than half a hectare, to supply its own growing population. The roughly two million farms in the U.S., which is the biggest producer of maize, soybeans and almonds, have an average size of 444 acres or 180 hectares on the other hand.

Only five percent of the total amount of crops are grown on big farms larger than 1,000 hectares like the family farm of world-leading almond and pistachio producers Stewart and Lynda Resnick with roughly 77,000 hectares or 190,000 acres. This divide also shows a discrepancy in terminology: The term "family farms" is often used to describe smallholdings, while in reality, it can be any farm owned by one individual or a group of individuals where the labor is mainly supplied by the family.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

This chart shows the share of global crop production by farm size.
This chart compares the share of global food, feed and fuel production, between smaller and larger farms. Image: Our World in Data
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Industries in DepthFood and Water
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