It’s a familiar theme in a world grappling with COVID-19. When will it end, and how? We don’t know when lockdowns will end, when social distancing will end, or when empty shelves at the grocery store will end.
Some things may not end at all. For smallholder farmers in developing countries, the “end” of the coronavirus pandemic might be better described as the beginning of a new reality for agriculture.
What will that reality look like? It remains to be seen.
Smallholder farmers, and food security as a whole, are at a turning point. Adoption of new technologies, open borders for food trade, and the heightened importance of sustainable small-scale farms could guide the food system through this challenge and change it for the better. On the other hand, the effects of COVID-19 could plunge smallholders into a downward spiral of underinvestment, poor harvests, and a cycle of food and financial insecurity impacting millions of people around the world.
Smallholder farmers, and food security as a whole, are at a turning point.
While the pandemic affects us all, it doesn’t do so equally. Developing countries and communities are at far greater risk. Smallholders farm 10 hectares at most, but the vast majority of them operate on less than two. Their margins and room for error are just as small. There’s simply less room to absorb the shock of a disruption.
Yet, so much is depending on their productivity. Day in and day out, these farmers work to overcome significant challenges to provide for their families and communities. In fact, they feed as much as 80% of the regions where they live and work. Across Latin America, Africa, and Asia, that adds up to billions of people.
Are smallholders and the global food system on the brink of a crisis, or on the cusp of a breakthrough? The next six months may hold the answer. Every action is critical.