Small Farms More Productive than Large Farms but Threatened by Trade Agreements
The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First
and the Transnational Institute Release a New Report:
The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture: In the Context of Global Trade Negotiations
By Peter Rosset
Maastricht, Netherlands -- Small farms are more productive than large farms, yet their continued existence is threatened by international trade agreements, according to a major study released today at a United Nations conference here in Maastricht.*
The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as "Food First," based in California, USA, and the Transnational Institute, based in The Netherlands, published the study authored by agricultural development specialist Dr. Peter Rosset. Challenging the conventional wisdom that small farms are backward and unproductive, the study shows that small farmers worldwide produce from 2 to 10 times more per unit area than do larger, corporate farmers.
"In fact small farms are 'multi-functional' -- more productive, more efficient, and contribute more to economic development than do large farms," said Dr. Rosset, Executive Director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy and the author of the report. Communities surrounded by populous small farms have healthier economies than do communities surrounded by depopulated large, mechanized farms.
Small farmers also take better care of natural resources, including reducing soil erosion and conserving biodiversity. Small farmers are better stewards of natural resources, safeguarding the future sustainability of agricultural production.
"Despite more than a century of anti-small farmer policies in country after country, in both industrialized and third world countries," said Dr. Rosset, "small farmers not only still cling to the soil but continue to be more productive and more efficient than large, agri-business farming operations. Small farmers offer the best way to feed the world, and the only way to effectively conserve soil resources for future generations."
Unfortunately the study shows that today the world's small farmers face unprecedented threats to their livelihoods, thanks to free trade agreements negotiated in recent years. "Free trade causes the prices farmers receive to drop through the floor", said Rosset," driving them into bankruptcy by the millions." Such low prices mean only the largest can survive, according to the study.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), to be negotiated in Seattle, USA, in November, 1999, is the weapon that could deal the final death blow to the world's small farmers, according to Rosset. "The U.S. Government negotiators," said Rosset, himself an American, "have as their goal for Seattle the complete liberalization of trade in farm products."
Rosset, and the institutes that published his report, are issuing a call to recognize the true, multiple value of small farms, and to defeat the American government plans for the AOA. "Small farmers are a key resource for our very survival into the future," said Mr. Erik Heijmans, of the Transnational Institute, which co- publi
shed the study. "We must oppose trade agreements which place them in jeopardy."
* "Cultivating Our Futures," the FAO/Netherlands Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land, 12-17 September 1999, Maastricht, The Netherlands. Information at: http://www.fao.org/mfcal
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