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News Story
10 October 2012

What do we really mean by rural food security?

There are approximately 400 to 500 million small farms around the world. This implies that some two billion people – a third of the world‘s population – are dependent on smallholding for their livelihoods. Historically, such smallholders have adapted autonomously to environmental and climatic variations by, for example, changing planting cycles, diversifying crops, turning to mobile livelihood strategies such as pastoralism, or supplementing their income through non-farm activities. However, the speed and scope of climate change and the onset of its impacts seriously compound existing challenges to smallholders, especially with the lack of viable alternatives in sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course, smallholders do have a crucial role to play in the national development strategies of poorer countries. They serve as the foundation for growth in manufacturing and export, the spark for the “virtuous circle”, as described by Gordon Conway in the report “On Being a Smallholder” (PDF). However, smallholders cannot play this role without a range of supporting conditions, such as regular seasonality, predictable rainfall, moderate temperature ranges, sustainable use and storage of water, capital investments in technology – the list goes on. The reality is that there are parts of the world where smallholders cannot even be self-sufficient, let alone increase productivity within their landscape. They often live in areas increasingly affected by climatic variability, including unseasonal rainfall, extreme weather events and shifts in plant and animal disease patterns, salinization of soils, depleted aquifers and rising sea-levels.

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CCAFS Website