For millions of families in the developing world, farming is not just an occupation; it is the sole means of survival. Smallholder farmers grow several crops on small plots of land to support their families and those in their local communities.
In 2010, two billion people depended upon 500 million smallholder farmers to meet their food needs 1. They’re the largest farmer group in the world and key drivers of food security in developing countries2. The trouble is that it’s tough for smallholder farmers to make a good living. The plant science industry is trying to change that with a commitment to provide them with knowledge and access to innovative farming methods and technologies. From biotech plants that boost yields and profit, to herbicides that replace strenuous labour, smallholder farmers are looking to plant science to give them more choice to improve their livelihoods.
Making agriculture more productive and profitable through plant science will help smallholder farmers move from ‘farming to survive’ towards marketing their crops – creating sustainable livelihoods and stronger communities.
For example, consider Bt cotton, a plant with built-in pest resistance that is boosting farm incomes and quality of life in many developing countries. In India, Bt cotton farmers are achieving 50 to 110 percent higher profits3, and their families have more maternal health care, and higher school enrollment and vaccination rates for their children. Their rural villages benefit too – with improved access to telephone systems, drinking water and economic infrastructure4. In Burkina Faso, Bt cotton hectarage grew 126 percent in just one year, thanks to the higher yields and profits farmers were achieving5.
Pesticides are also an important tool for smallholder farmers. In Kenya, using pesticides to produce disease-free fruit means a four-fold income increase for small-scale passion fruit farmers; and extra income for avocado farmers6. These higher incomes have allowed farmers to improve their health and access to medical care, provide schooling for their children, and oftentimes invest in new business opportunities.
Herbicides, which control weeds, are a critical tool to reduce strenuous labour and boost yields. To weed just one hectare of corn, a farmer would have traveled a distance of 10 kilometers7, all in a stooped position that could result in permanent spinal deformation8. Herbicides can reduce handweeding labour by 90 percent, meaning 24 billion less handweeding hours and a 40 million tonne increase in crop yield. Plus, it enables African women farmers to pursue additional educational, business and family opportunities9.