Contribution to the Gardening-Conference 2000: "Perspectives of Small-Scale Farming in urban and rural areas
- about the social and ecological necessity of gardens and informal agriculture" from 21. - 25. July 2000 in Berlin
Infos: Work group "Small-scale farming and Gardens in urban and rural Areas", ,


Prof. Dr. Ramesh C. Agrawal,
Centre for Advanced Training in Agricultural & Rural Development
Faculty of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Perspectives for Small* Farmers in Developing Countries:
Do They have a Future?

Most of the farmers in developing countries are small - whether in terms of resources or incomes. In the two most populous countries of the world, viz. China and India, abode to more than one third of the world´s population, the small holders account for more than 50% of the farm households. What is worse, their numbers depict an increasing tendency over time. For example, in India, the number of marginal farmers (having a holding size of less than 1 hectare, their average operated area per farm being a meagre 0.4 hectares) increased from 35.7 million in 1970-71 to 62.1 million in 1990-91. During the same period, the total number of small and marginal farmers (i.e. those having a farm size of less than 2 hectares) went up from nearly 49 million to more than 82 million. Consequently, such farmers accounted for nearly 78% of all Indian farmers in 1990-91 as against 69.7% two decades ago. The well-being of most developing countries is directly related to the well-being of the small farmers.

Unfortunately, the small and marginal farmers in developing countries are amongst the economically weakest. Nearly 70% of the world´ s poor live in rural areas; most of them are small farmers. These farmers have benefited little from the so-called various revolutions in agriculture. In fact, in many cases, their situation has worsened over time.

This paper argues that this dismal state of affairs is for no fault of the small farmers. As ever, they have been doing their best and not only bravely fighting for their survival but also contributing, directly and indirectly, to the well-being of their nations in diverse ways, e.g., in acceleration of economic growth, absorption of increasing labour force, enhancement of food self-sufficiency and autarky, improvement in balance of trade through increased exports, and by providing impetus to the non-agricultural sector. The poor farmer is made to share unfairly heavy burden of providing cheap food to the consumer and raw materials to the industries in developing countries; the reverse is generally true of his fellow farmer in the rich industrialised countries.

The problems facing the small and marginal farmers in developing countries often lie with policy - its formulation and execution - in these countries. Their planning documents usually convey the impression that improving the lot of these farmers is accorded a high priority by the politicians/policy makers. Unfortunately, the reality is often different. At least in the execution of policy, these (marginal and small) farmers have been marginalised in the true sense of the word. The premise of this paper is that these farmers are not (and need not be) a helpless lot. Far from it (How could they have survived for thousands of years against such heavy odds?). They also do not need any charity. In order to have a better future, they require, among other things, æequity and justiceÆ in terms of (i) fair access to the agricultural inputs (e.g. land, water, seed, fertiliser, credit, etc.) markets, information, and policy provisions, and (ii) politicians/policy makers with an open ear û in other words, a level playing field.

With the increasing degree of globalisation, the problem has assumed an even greater international dimension. This paper pleads that both the developed and developing countries have a responsibility to co-operate in this endeavour of enabling the small farmers in developing countries to have a better future, because the policies of the developed countries, in many instances, have been as harmful to these small farmers in developing countries as those of their own home countries. The international institutions and non-governmental organisations also have a very vital role to play.

* The term, "small farmer" as used here includes marginal farmers also.

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