Higher agency helps small farmers reap globalisation benefits: Study

A new study examined how flow of goods, resources and people in global market facilitated farmers’ livelihoods 

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 26 February 2020
Farmers in Nepal. Source: Flickr

Can small farmers benefit from globalisation? Can they have better access to natural resources? Boils down to how much agency they have, according to a recent study published in journal Sustainability.

Half the world's poor are small farmers, according to some studies. The authors studied 12 smallholder systems in developing countries across the world linked to other systems — near and far — and how the flow of goods, resources and people facilitated the farmers’ livelihoods.

For example, soyabean farmers in China’s Heilongjiang province competed with those from Brazil and the United States and received price signals from the international market, which influenced land use decisions. This meant they had little control on what they planted. As a result, they were forced to plant crops which required more fertiliser, which in turn had environmental consequences.

However, in China’s two counties in Gansu province, smallholders involved in crop production and animal husbandry received government ecosystem compensation. In Madagascar, price volatility of vanilla remained low, as a result of which farmers had little ability to shape the characteristics of flow.

Meanwhile in Kenya, adoption of new seed varieties led to cultivation of possibilities of crops in regional and local markets. New mulching systems shared by the Chinese helped farmers save water and increase corn yields.

Michigan State University quoted Yue Duo, a former Center for Strategic and International Studies research associate, as saying:

Globalisation is not the only way that integrates smallholder to the world. Smallholders also send or receive flows other than agricultural goods, such as labor migration, water discharge, and technology exchange. Some of these various connections are with faraway markets, while some of them are with their neighbouring villages and towns. And they co-exist.

Howeve, popularity of acai in global market helped smallholders to move out of remote riverine communities to establish second homes in nearby cities. This improved accessibility to better education and healthcare facilities.

 “We found that if the main linkages smallholders have is with their neighbours and not the distant world, they may have more choices of livelihood and better overall outcomes in the economy, social well-being, and the environment,” Dou said.

“When smallholders are connected to faraway systems, the key is to empower them to higher agency and more livelihood opportunities. Sometimes this can be improved by creating additional connections to neighbour systems,” he added.

The study also covered systems in Myanmar, Mozambique and Colombia.

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