Briefing Paper

Approaches for supporting smallholders in the Global South: contentious issues, experiences, syntheses

Rauch, Theo / Michael Brüntrup
Briefing Paper (1/2021)

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)


Dt. Ausg. u.d.T.:
Ansätze der Kleinbauernförderung im Globalen Süden: Kontroversen, Erfahrungen, Synthesen
(Analysen und Stellungnahmen 17/2020)

There is a widely held consensus that it will not be possible to feed the world without the help of the smallholders of Africa, Latin America and Asia, who number up to 570 million farms or 2 billion people. Given the sheer size of this figure alone, the sustainable development of smallholder farming will be key to achieving a range of other sustainability goals.
Debate rages over how smallholder households in low- and middle-income countries are to overcome these challenges given the rising global population and the increasing scarcity of farmland. Four main contentious issues have emerged from the debate over expedient development and promotion strategies: focus (holistic or support), technology (low- or high-input agriculture), institutional framework (primarily government-run or private-sector services) and alignment of market orientation (locally, regionally or globally aligned).
These four contentious strategy issues are meanwhile being melded into two “idealised” fundamental standpoints on agricultural policy: one of farm production that is based on ecological principles and local knowledge, input-extensive, aligned with regional (food) needs and funded by the public sector and, as its countermodel, farm production that is embedded in a global private-sector agricultural industry based on input-intensive modernisation.
At a local and practical level, this conceptional debate is often resolved through pragmatic compromises. Purely market-oriented approaches ignore the need for diversification and consideration of subsistence requirements, while concentrating too much on domestic markets sacrifices opportunities for specialisation and income generation. Although government service systems often have serious weaknesses, private service providers frequently have only a selective interest in specific businesses and products. As efficient as external inputs may be, poorer smallholders are rarely able to bear the costs and risks.
An analysis of local needs and opportunities often reveals a need for target-group- and location-specific combinations of strategic elements focused on the objective of intensifying smallholder farming in a socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable way. The search process required for this should be guided by the following basic strategic principles:
• Rather than being determined unilaterally by market requirements, funding should take equal account of smallholder livelihood systems and local ecosystems.
• The quest for sustainable innovations that will increase yields and have a broad impact calls for a publicly financed process of locally adapted agricultural research that gets various target groups involved.
• The respective benefits of private- and public-sector agricultural services should be combined in public-private partnerships and aligned with the needs of the producers.
• The widespread availability of cash incomes should also be supported, not just the production of food.
• If strategies like these are to succeed, rural areas must be connected up to the rising demand in the cities by means of infrastructure. To some extent, there is also a need for well-focused protection from global competition while taking the interests of poor consumers into account.

Further experts

Balasubramanian, Pooja

Social Economics 

Burchi, Francesco

Development Economy 

Dick, Eva

Sociologist and Spatial Planner 

Donnelly, Aiveen

Politcal Science 

Faus Onbargi, Alexia

Energy and climate policy 

Gubbini, Emily

Social Science 

Kornher, Lukas


Mchowa, Chifundo

Development Economics 

Mudimu, George Tonderai

Agricultural policy economics 

Rukundo, Emmanuel Nshakira

Development Economics 

Sakketa, Tekalign Gutu

Agricultural / Development Economics 


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