Closing the Income Gap for Smallholder Farmers
Paul Rice aptly stated in his post, “Smallholder farmers are the backbone of our global food systems.”
With approximately 15 million family farms in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), it is heartening to witness the launch of AgroLAC 2025 to support sustainable agricultural practices in the region.
As the global population soars, with growth particularly concentrated in urban areas, the need for smart agriculture investments is of the utmost importance. The world will soon turn to the smallholder farmers of LAC – a valuable, under-tapped resource – to improve global food security.
Heifer International has worked in the LAC region for more than 70 years. In 1944, the first-ever shipment of heifers went to the Puerto Rican community of Castañer. We opened offices in other LAC countries as time went on, with Ecuador in 1954, Bolivia in 1957, Guatemala and Peru in the early 60s, and so on.
We are encouraged that AgroLAC seeks to increase the productivity of farmers through sustainable intensification, enable farmers to access markets and promote agri/environmental planning. These areas of interest are quite in line with the work we do at Heifer International.
While we specialize in livestock and training as assets and tools toward holistic community development, we know there are many facets and approaches that must come together to truly and permanently lift communities out of poverty. It will take all of us working together, and I am grateful for and optimistic about the launch of AgroLAC, which can help propel our missions forward.
What we must be cautious of doing, however, is ignoring the right of smallholder farmers to live dignified lives. It is wrong to expect the world’s 600 million smallholder farmers and herders to be responsible for feeding the world and repairing the Earth, without taking their quality of life into consideration.
We cannot simply provide training and inputs and leave farmers with marginally improved, yet still impoverished, livelihoods. We must help them “close the gap” between the hunger and poverty they experience when we meet them, and the dignified lives they wish for themselves.
In Guatemala, for example, we are working with farmers like Ricardo Juc. Before joining a Heifer project, Juc raised corn, beans and coffee on a total of 2.5 hectares. Now, Ricardo has diversified fruit and vegetable crops, semi-permanent crops, a fisheries management system, and a chili-packaging process. While Juc has yet to reach the Guatemalan total life basket of $4.26 per person per day, he has gone from below the extreme poverty line to $1.44 per person per day for his family.
Across all of our programs, our staff has been working diligently to define livable income levels, determine what interventions are necessary to close the gaps, and work with partners and funders to design programs that can accomplish this work.
The goal we seek at Heifer International is to help 4 million families achieve livable incomes by 2020.
The world cannot afford to leave hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers and herders as peasants. They need – and deserve – to raise their families on more than $1.26 per person, per day.
My hope is that AgroLAC members will collaborate over programs with livable incomes for smallholder farmers in mind. Helping farmers close income gaps will rely on many factors, and all sectors have a role to play. Successfully accomplishing this shift will mean a stronger LAC region and a long-lasting end to global hunger and poverty.