Thursday, 13 September 2007

Farming-Small Farms Produce More.

I provide some quotes below from a policy brief by Peter M Rosset, Ph.D. Executive Director Food First/The Institute for Food and Development. The policy brief was prepared for "Cultivating Our Futures" the FAO/Netherlands Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land,12-17 September1999, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
.."In this policy brief I challenge the conventional wisdom that small farms are backward and unproductive. Using evidence from Southern and Northern countries I demonstrate that small farms are "multi-functional"-more productive, more efficient, andcontribute more to economic development than large farms. Small farmers can also make better stewards of natural resources, conserving biodiversity and safe-guarding the future sustainability of agricultural production.
....Small Farm Productivity
How many times have we heard that large farms are more productive than small farms? Or that they are more efficient? And that we need to consolidate land holdings to take advantage of that productivity and efficiency? The actual data shows exactly the reverse for productivity: that smaller farms produce far more per unit area than larger farms. Part of the problem lies in the confusing language used to compare the performance of different farm sizes. As long as we use crop yield as the measure of productivity, we will be giving an unfair advantage to larger farms.
Total Output versus Yield.
If we are to fairly evaluate the relative productivity of small and large farms, we must discard "yield" as our measurement tool.Yield means the production per unit area of a single crop, like "metric tons of corn per hectare." One can often obtain the highest yield of a single crop by planting it alone on a field--in a monoculture. But while a monoculture may allow for a high yield of one crop, it produces nothing else of use to the farmer. The bare ground between the crop rows..."empty niche space" in ecological terms...invites weed infestation. The presence of weeds makes the farmer invest labour in weeding or capital in herbicide.
Large farmers tend to plant monocultures because they are the simplest to manage with heavy machinary. Small farmers on the other hand, especially in the Third World are much more likely to plant crop mixtures--intercropping---where the empty niche space that would otherwise produce weeds instead is occupied by other crops. Thet also tend to combine or rotate crops and livestock, with manure serving to replenish soil fertility.
Such integrated farming systems produce far more per unit area than do monocultures. Though the yield per unit area of one crop-corn, for example- may be lower on a small farm than on a large monoculture, the total output per unit area, often composed of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, can be far, far higher. Therefore if we are to compare large and small farms, we should use 'total output' rather than yield. Total output is the sum of everything a small farm produces: various grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, animal products etc. While 'yield' almost always biases the results towards large farms, total output allows us to see the true productivity advantage of small farms.
Surveying the data we indeed find that small farms almost always produce far more agricultural output per unit area than larger farms. This holds true whether we are talking about an industrial country like the United States, or any country in the Third World.".......

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