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It was one year ago today that the world population estimate hit 7 billion. Here at Heifer International, we're continuing our work of helping smallholder farmers around the world learn sustainable agriculture practices, increase their family's nutrition and income and contribute to community and economic development. Empowering smallholder farmers, especially women, to grow more food more sustainably is the best solution to ending hunger and poverty worldwide.

Smallholder Farmers in Bangladesh

Eighty percent of the developing world's food is raised on about half a billion small farms.

An interesting, though long, read is "Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the world, protecting the planet" from the International Fund for Agricultural Development. In it, IFAD validates what Heifer has known for a long time.

Farmers face two stark realities over the next four decades: They must produce 70 per cent more food by 2050 to feed a growing, more urbanized population, and they must do so facing the likelihood that arable land in developing countries will increase by no more than 12 per cent. That monumental challenge can be met only if sustainability is the foundation of approaches to food security and poverty reduction in every country and every community. No other strategy has a hope of feeding current populations while protecting and restoring the natural resources that future generations will need to support their livelihoods.

Viewing the agriculture sector as renewable rather than extractive is the only way forward. This approach embraces the idea that agriculture is an interaction with wider ecosystems, while it simultaneously improves livelihood options for those who farm the world’s approximately 500 million smallholdings. In the long term, there is no trade-off between production and sustainability. In fact, the opposite is true: without sustainability, production will suffer.

On the anniversary of the world's population reaching 7 billion, it's good to take stock and remember where we're headed: to 9 billion or so by 2050. If we want a chance at ensuring a decent, healthy life for each of those 9 billion, we must continue to invest in the world's smallholder farmers.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.