Big farms or small farms: how to respond to the food crisis?

Debates on the scale of farming are back on the agenda. In a number of recentarticles, Professor Paul Collier, author of ‘The Bottom Billion: Why the PoorestCountries are Failing and What Can be Done About It’, made the case (see Position 1 below) for encouraging large-scale commercial farming as way toget African farming moving. Favouring small farmers, he argues, is romantic but unhelpful

During 2008 there have been many reports of private companies in the Northand state corporations in the South reacting to the opportunity and threat ofhigher food prices by planning to acquire land in Africa, South-east Asia, Braziland Central Asia to produce food. The most startling of these announcementsis that of the Daewoo Corporation of the Republic of Korea that revealed that itwas acquiring the rights to farm no less than 1.3 million hectares of Madagascar,a position from which the company and the government have now backedaway from following a storm of local and international protest.In many cases the reports suggest that the aim is to farm the land on a largescale, rather than to contract production through existing family smallholdings.

It is now more than three years since IFPRI, Imperial College, and ODI organiseda workshop at Wye for specialists to debate the issues surrounding small farms.It looks to be time to revisit those arguments in the light of higher food prices,the arguments being made for largescalefarming and apparent intent ofcapital-rich investors.

In May 2009, the Future AgriculturesConsortium welcomed a range ofopinions in regard to this debate; thisreport by FAC member Steve Wigginssummarises the contributionsand themes emerging from thediscusisons.