Supporting small-scale farmers to solve the food security crisis

If there are no farmers, there’s no food.

This World Food Day, we wanted to reiterate the importance of supporting small-scale farmers. After all, without them, where would we be? 

At Farm Radio, we often talk about supporting small-scale farmers. But what even is a small-scale farmer?

The definition of small-scale farmer varies based on who you talk to. There are a few common criteria, including related to land size, income, the proportion of crops sold versus consumed by the household and the percentage of a family’s income that comes from non-farm activities. In general, small-scale farmers manage smaller plots of land, generate less income, consume a certain amount of their harvest and dedicate most of their effort to farming.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that five out of six farms consist of less than two hectares and that these farms produce approximately 35 per cent of the world’s food.

Why support small-scale farmers?

As we’ve established, small-scale and family farmers play a significant role in food production in Africa. Agriculture is a major source of employment on the continent. In sub-Saharan Africa, 66 per cent of women’s employment and 60 per cent of men’s employment is in agrifood systems.

Small-scale farmers are more likely to use sustainable farming practices, like growing a diversity of crops and planting cover crops to improve soil health. Small-scale farms also tend to use less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases than large mechanized farms.

Yet small-scale farmers face numerous challenges, including changing weather patterns, competition from large industrial farms and a lack of access to reliable, up-to-date information. Supporting small-scale farmers means supporting local livelihoods and food security.

Though women make a significant contribution to food systems, they face additional barriers like difficulty accessing land, financing, agricultural inputs and technology. There is a 24 per cent gender gap in land productivity between women- and men-managed farms of the same size. That means that, on a farm of the same size, women tend to produce lower crop yields and generate less income to support their family and achieve their other goals. Giving women farmers a boost helps close this gap and benefits their whole community.

How does Farm Radio International support small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa?

The bread and butter of Farm Radio’s work is farmer radio programs: programs that put information into the hands of small-scale farmers so they can improve their farmer and their lives. These are programs that explain how to grow a crop or raise livestock from sourcing inputs through to marketing and selling. Our partner radio stations have broadcast programs about topics ranging from raising guinea fowl to growing and cooking orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Besides promoting good agricultural, business and marketing practices, an increasing area of focus in our work is sharing tips for adapting to climate change.

Before designing interactive radio programs, we consult with communities, knowledge partners — and, most importantly, farmers themselves to ensure that our programs are useful and relevant. We partner with government ministries and agricultural extension agents to expand the reach of government extension programs. And we give experts at all stages of food production the opportunity to share their knowledge on air.

While programs are broadcasting, we continue to engage with small-scale farmers through Uliza polls and Community Listening Groups, where listeners can interact with their radio station and get their questions answered. We are constantly working to increase women’s access to radio programs so that women farmers can also benefit from our programming.

Supporting small-scale farmers as a solution to world hunger

Small-scale farmers form the foundation of our food system. Equipping them with the support they need — whether that means sharing the latest agricultural information over the airwaves or ensuring access to loans and quality seeds — has a ripple effect in their community and beyond and moves us one step closer to zero hunger.

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