Smallholder farmers supporting food production is one of the quickest ways to lift more than a billion people out of poverty, according to a new United Nations report.
"Smallholders, Food Security and the Environment" was commissioned by the U.N. Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and released here during World Environment Day celebrations.
According to the report, most of the 1.4 billion people globally living on under 1.25 U.S. dollars a day live in rural areas and depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods, while an estimated 2.5 billion people are involved in full or part-time smallholder agriculture.
A previous study showed, for every 10 percent increase in farm yields, there was a 7 percent reduction in poverty in Africa, and a reduction of more than 5 percent in Asia.
However, increasing fragmentation of land, reduced investment support and the marginalization of small farms in economic and development policy had hampered the development of this vital contribution and left many smallholders vulnerable, the report said.
"Two decades of underinvestment in agriculture, growing competition for land and water, rising fuel and fertilizer prices, and climate change have left smallholders less able to escape poverty," said Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.
The pressures placed on land and other resources were set to grow over the next 40 years as agriculture must feed a larger and more-urbanized world population, the report said.
It concluded that sustainable agricultural intensification could be the answer to enhanced food security, environmental protection and poverty reduction, and smallholders had a key role to play in this process.
The report also made a series of recommendations, including creating market-based mechanisms to provide smallholders with incentives to invest in sustainability, such as reducing unsustainable fertilizers.
World Environment Day activities take place year round but climax on June 5, with Mongolia this year acting as host. The day was inaugurated in 1972 and aims to be the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action.