Why We Exist

Worldwide there are 2.6 billion small-scale farmers accounting for 40% of the population and 86% of the rural poor. Though agriculture still constitutes the primary livelihood for two-fifths of humanity, new global food supply chains are making small, sustainable farms less viable across much of the world.

A handful of large agri-businesses now dominate most aspects of the food system, controlling the quality of what consumers get to eat, the environmental footprint of the product and the prices farmers receive for their crops and livestock.

This new industrial model has been based on the concept of ‘efficiency’ and fails to take into account the hidden costs. Emphasizing high production and low costs, the industrial model has degraded soil and water quality, reduced biodiversity, crippled global farming communities, and decreased the quality of food available on our grocery store shelves.

Farms are biological systems, not mechanical ones, and small-scale farmers play a key role in our future sustainability. Most small-scale farmers ‘farm with nature’, promoting biodiversity, recycling plant nutrients, protecting soil from erosion, while conserving and protecting water resources.

Moreover, studies have shown that while large-scale, single crop farms produce a large output per worker, diversified sustainable farms produce more food per acre of land, requiring more workers and creating more jobs. Specifically, agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors (Båge, 2008)1. For every dollar the farm spends, a percentage remains in the local economy, contributing to the economic health of the community.

Yet for the most part, smaller-scale farmers remain invisible to modern markets. Since they are geographically dispersed and lack coordinated distribution systems, they are subject to price controls by middle-men who are able push down prices at their discretion. As a consequence many small-scale farmers end up having no option but to sell their crops under-value at the local market or their farm gate.

Buyers, on the other hand, are increasingly seeking high quality products that have been ethically and sustainably produced. There is a current void in the market of these types of goods. Fair Trade has tried to fill that void by increasing consumer awareness of the need for ethical prices paid to producers at origin. However, there are concerns over a lack of complete transparency including assurance that payments are going directly to farmers. Moreover, Fair Trade certification is relatively costly, limiting the inclusion of many small-scale farmers, and does not take into account how to reward these types of farmers for the additional value they add in quality or social and environmental impact.

To support more farmers and stakeholders at origin creating stable trading relationships, where fair prices and appreciation of quality and sustainability are valued, requires a paradigm shift in how connections are formed and maintained. It is a new way of seeing the world, investing in our relationships with the earth, the people we care about and those who support us. Better access to information, as well as environmental, social and business commitment from all involved, is necessary for a healthy future and sustainability for products we all love.

See Three Stories that Bring Yellow Seed to Life to learn more.

Bage, L. 2008. “Supporting smallholders is crucial to food security.” Financial Times, July 7 published for the G8 Summit special report. www.ifad.org/events/op/2008/g8.htm

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