The Challenge: Smallholder farms far from their potential
More than 80% of the world’s farms operate on less than two hectares of land. A dominant part of the world’s food originates from such smallholder farms. Yet, according to FAO, the “yield gaps” of these farms – actual versus potential yield, given access to water and other site-specific conditions – amount to 50-70%. These gaps indicate an enormous potential, and closing them is the main way to approach food security in many rural regions.
One critical tool to improve farmers’ yields is access to timely, relevant agricultural information such as weather data. Many must also navigate deeply entrenched cultural and social norms associated with farming to reach performance in line with their farms’ potentials. Lack of up-to-date information and applicable context-specific knowledge are significant barriers to adopting best practices and improving food security. To maintain gains long-term, improvements must also enhance ecosystems, including healthy soil and clean water, as well as pollination and natural pest control.
Agriculture is and will remain the most important sector in many evolving economies; its performance is vital to supporting progress and the very fabric of society. Yet, extension services – assisting farmers in various ways to improve their results – are surprisingly weak in many regions. Even the capacity to improve extension services is often lacking, despite their fundamental role in advancing sustainability and production efficiency.
In Colombia, only 16% of farmers receive assistance, and typically the focus is mainly on intensification, resulting in short-term yield gains at the expense of the long-term benefits of resilient agriculture and healthy ecosystems, a common issue in many countries.
Today, digital infrastructures have an almost global reach, facilitating the evolution of new extension services that can also be extended to remote smallholder farms.