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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of small-scale farms in the global food system Ricciardi, Vincent


Farms are becoming larger in high-income countries and smaller and more fragmented in low-income countries. This farm size transition has motivated recent international policy calls to combat inequities in the global food system and to promote more environmentally friendly production practices. This dissertation seeks to understand the impact of this transition on global food production, on the environment, and on small-scale farmers’ livelihoods. Each chapter aims to examine the underlying assumptions of these policy calls by testing the relationship between small-scale farms and key socio-ecological outcomes. Through creating a harmonized dataset across 55 countries, Chapter 2 estimates that 30-34% of the world’s food is produced by farms under 2 hectares in size and smaller farms producer a greater diversity of crop species than larger farms. Chapter 3’s meta-analysis synthesizes the past 50 years of empirical evidence on the relationships between farm size and several socio-ecological outcomes of farming systems (i.e., yield, biodiversity, resource-use efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and profitability). We found that smaller farms have higher yields and promote more non-crop biodiversity (across species at the farm and landscape scales) than larger farms. We found no relationship between farm size and resource-use efficiency, but smaller farms had a non-significant trend to lower greenhouse gas emissions per crop output than larger farms. Chapter 4 builds on this meta-analysis to investigate the relationship between farm size, productivity, and income using harmonized national sample surveys from 34 countries across the Global South. Our results highlight that while smaller farms are more productive than larger farms, they have lower per capita incomes. Critically, we also found that the current internationally agreed upon target of doubling small-scale farmer incomes is not aggressive enough to transition them out of poverty. Chapter 5 outlines pathways for the international community to identify and monitor small-scale food producers, which is a central hurdle to ensure governments keep their agreed upon commitments to support small-scale farmers. This dissertation makes several empirical contributions to the literature on the contribution of small farms to the global food system, and can help inform policy initiatives aimed to support small-scale farmers.

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