Despite producing most of the world’s food, smallholder farmers tend to be food insecure themselves: globally, they form the majority of people living in poverty. Helping raise their incomes and improve their livelihoods holds the key to building sustainable food systems, advancing food security and achieving Zero Hunger.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is well placed to contribute to this process. Thanks to our large demand for staple foods, farmer-directed procurement processes and locally-geared supply chains, many smallholders gain an entry point into formal markets. Encouraged to form associations, they are able to negotiate better, sell more, lower their transaction costs and extend their customer base.
But smallholders continue to face serious constraints. Some are unable to produce enough to last through the lean season. Others may generate a small surplus, yet struggle to make a profit. Overall, smallholders lack access to productive inputs and financing. Post-harvest management, including storage, is often inadequate: crops are exposed to mold, rot and pests. All the while, increasingly extreme weather events add to the challenge: often reliant on rain-fed agriculture, smallholders are powerless in the face of climate hazards.
In response, WFP has developed models that combine wide partnerships, innovative solutions and context-specific support for smallholders and their national governments, with systemic impact in value chains and broader food systems. These efforts target both men and women farmers: research suggests that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, the higher yields could lift up to 150 million people out of hunger.
Our smallholder programmes include Purchase for Progress (P4P) and the private-sector focused Farm to Market Alliance, both of which encourage investments that connect smallholders to markets, help diversify their crops and broaden their business prospects. Another, Home-Grown School Feeding, aims to source the food for national school meal systems from domestic smallholder production. Under Purchase from Africans for Africa, run in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we match demand from the continent’s public institutions with the offer of local smallholders and farming associations. All these programmes complement our established forms of support to the most vulnerable and food-insecure farming communities – whether food assistance, training and asset building, or climate-themed approaches such as the Rural Resilience Initiative (R4), Food for Assets and Cash for Assets.
Overall, some 2 million smallholder farmers in more than 60 countries are benefiting from our agricultural market development work. The objective is to strengthen and sustain their ability to do business, while supporting governments’ capacity to design policies with their interests in mind. Such coordinated efforts are helping turn today’s recipients of food assistance into tomorrow’s food suppliers.