astara woman farmerContext: There is enough food for everyone in the world right now but 870 million people go hungry every day. 26% of children in developing countries are stunted; lives are cut short or permanently damaged because they do not receive enough nutrients at the start. Vitamin A deficiently kills half a million children annually; iron-deficient anaemia during pregnancy is a cause of 20% of maternal deaths. This is an issue about both contributing to national growth and realising individual rights.

Purpose: The UN Secretary-General's Zero Hunger Challenge has called on government, businesses and civil society to ensure adequate food for all by 2025. Towards this end, as president of the G8 the UK is hosting a high-level 'hunger summit' – (also known as the Nutrition & Growth event) – on 8 June. Alongside the Enough Food For All IF campaign, the Hunger Alliance is using this piece of work to influence the level and direction of development investment in agriculture.

The research: The Hunger Alliance commissioned ODI to review how smallholder farming contributes to improved nutrition. Through quantitative analysis of long term data, it looks at a wide range and scale of interventions, with case studies based on national data from Bangladesh, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and Kerala in India.

Why smallholders? Over 1.5 billion people are directly supported by small farms of less than 2 hectares. They manage over 80% of the farmland across Asia and Africa in environmentally sustainable ways and yet are disproportionately vulnerable to under nutrition. Smallholder farmers are key drivers to overcoming food insecurity: through production of nutritious food, generating income to purchase nutritious food; and by stimulating linkages in food production to create additional jobs. Yet investment in agri-food systems has not been directed towards this majority group of food producers in developing countries. Further, women account for 60-80% of food production in developing countries yet only receive 5% of investment in small scale agriculture.

Key messages:

  1. Smallholder agriculture can have a great impact on nutrition in three ways: by empowering women farmers, promoting nutrition gardens and ensuring complementary agriculture, health and nutrition services.
  2. Overcoming female disadvantage in agriculture is a game changer: by reducing inequalities in both legal rights to resources and in access to education, financial and extension services.
  3. Promoting home and community gardens can have an important impact on nutrition by providing better access to nutritional food and increased income through sales of surplus.
  4. Complementary services are an essential support. Ensuring access to health, nutrition and water services and agricultural extension contribute to the impacts of smallholder farming on nutrition.
  5. It is perfectly possible to increase smallholder productivity in ways that conserve and enhance the environment.
  6. This demands a good rural infrastructure and investment climate directed particularly towards female smallholder farmers, which ensures proper availability of research, access to markets and financial services and technical assistance.

About the UK Hunger Alliance: A joint DFID-NGO consortium, which addresses food insecurity and under-nutrition and promotes predictable long term responses to food insecurity. Bi-annually we produce joint research to advocate in key areas to overcome food insecurity. (Hunger Alliance events and publications are not funded by and do not represent the opinion of DFID).