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Can Small-Scale Farmers Feed the World?

One of the things I wondered about a lot during my first months of work in the food system was productivity. Growing up in a Minority World country, practically all of my food came from large-scale, industrial farms. As a result, I—like many others—believed for a long time that industrial agriculture a necessary evil, an unfortunate requirement given how many people now live on the planet. Once I learned about the importance of small-scale farming for biodiversity and cultural preservation, I still wondered whether these smaller farms would be able to “feed the world.” 

Today, I wanted to take a bit of time to explore this question. There is ongoing controversy about exactly what percentage of the world’s food is produced by small-scale and peasant farmers. It’s a difficult question to answer, but an incredibly important one. If it turns out that small-scale agriculture does, in fact, feed the majority of the world, then that would be a huge blow to the industrial agricultural system, given its widespread environmental and social harms.