Food and Water

Small-scale farmers feed the planet. They should not be overlooked in our fight against climate change

Small-scale farmers produce more than one-third of the world’s food climate change

Small-scale farmers produce more than one-third of the world’s food. Image: Unsplash/Ninno JackJr

Alvaro Lario
President, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
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  • Small-scale farmers produce food for two out of every three people but are struggling with climate change, inflation and other shocks.
  • If we fail to support small-scale farmers, we risk the collapse of agricultural systems that sustain billions across the world.
  • COP27 is an opportunity to strengthen global food security by channeling more climate funding to those who need it most.

Small-scale farmers feed two out of every three people on the planet, but they are struggling with climate change, inflation and other external shocks. COP27 is an opportunity to strengthen global food security by channeling more climate funding to those who need it the most, and will do the most with it.

As crippling spikes in food and energy prices rock the world economy, we are at risk of overlooking the gravest danger of all: the devastating impact of climate change on the productive capacity of small-scale farmers, who produce more than one-third of the world’s food and feed between 4.5 and 5.5 billion people worldwide.

For them, soaring prices for energy and inputs such as fertilizer and feedstock could be the final straw. Unless we act to help them now, we risk the collapse of agricultural systems that sustain billions. We simply cannot let this happen.

Small-scale farmers hit by climate change and other crises

Small-scale farmers in developing countries are astonishingly efficient and resourceful – they produce 30% of the world’s food on just 11% of its farmland.

But they are being battered by rolling crises – not just climate change, but also COVID-19, livestock diseases such as swine fever, and a locust infestation across the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

This has sent food prices soaring. In nine out of 10 low and lower middle-income countries, food price inflation exceeds 5%, marginally outstripping inflation in the rich world. Staple foods are especially affected: year-on-year, average wheat prices were up 18% in October, with maize up 27% and rice by 10%. In Myanmar, the cost of rice is up by 50%. In Nigeria, raising chickens is now prohibitive due to the rising cost of feed.

So, what is the solution? For a start, small-scale farmers can switch to drought-tolerant crops, set up climate-smart irrigation and improve soil management. Farmers also need to be able to rely on stormproof infrastructure, early-warning weather systems and insurance products that help them prepare for, and recover from, extreme weather events.

But these are incredibly poor people and in some of the least developed countries. What they need most is money to invest and technical support to implement the changes that will see them through the tough times.

The latest monthly Food Security Update from the World Bank proves this point. It shows how the food, fuel, and fertilizer crisis is playing out across the developing world and impacting small-scale farmers, fishermen and both rural small-business owners and consumers.

The purchasing power of those who buy their produce is being squeezed by inflation, so in rural communities in almost every region, producers struggle to recoup these rising costs.

And nowhere is the need for investment more critical than in the Sahel region of north Africa. A report by the International Monetary Fund identifies 48 countries, primarily in the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa, which are hardest hit because they produce insufficient food and so rely most heavily upon costly food imports.

Along with countries in the dry corridor of Central America, they are among those most affected by rising temperatures, droughts, and more frequent, extreme weather. Even so, small-scale producers receive just 1.7% of global climate finance – the funds designed to support actions to address climate change – which is only a fraction of what is needed.

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COP27 is an opportunity to redress this imbalance. In particular, developed countries must honor their pledge to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries, and to channel half that amount to climate adaptation as this is where the money is needed most.

At the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), we see the tangible benefits of investment in climate adaptation every day.

For example, in Niger, which is brutally affected by climate change, a programme helped farmers stabilize the soil and recharge the water table by replanting grasses and trees. The results are there to see and eat: crop yields increased as much as 40%.

Channeling climate funding to small-scale farmers addresses multiple challenges. It increases their resilience by ensuring they have more climate-smart farming options. It reduces threats to food security.

It protects the poorest – including women and young people – in rural communities. And it helps reduce emissions and sequester carbon by locking it up for decades or centuries in soils and trees.

Everyone has role to play in making COP27 a success

It’s up to everyone to make COP27 a success. World leaders need to live up to their commitments but we all have a part to play. At IFAD, we know the value that partnerships can bring and the tremendous potential of the private sector.

IFAD is actively assembling finance from governments and the private sector, and even by issuing sustainable development bonds.


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

For each dollar of core contributions, we have been able to leverage up to $8 of investment channeled to poor rural communities. This is money that goes to the people who need it most. The people who grow our food and preserve our land and water.

As world leaders arrive in Sharm El-Sheikh, they would do well to recall the extraordinary heat, forest fires, floods and hurricanes of the past few months.

The evidence of rampant climate change is overwhelming. It is time to equip the small-scale farmers who feed two out of three people on the planet to roll back the interwoven food and climate crises that threaten us all.

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