Timothy A. Wise’s View on the Role of Small-Scale Farmers

Timothy A. Wise’s View on the Role of Small-Scale Farmers

“Industrial agriculture grows about 25% of the food consumed in the world, using about 70% of the land and resources; small-scale farming feeds about 75% of the world using about 25% of the world’s land and resources.” 

Timothy A. Wise is a Senior Researcher and Director of the Land and Food Rights Program at the Small Planet Institute. He is the author of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food. This thought-provoking book focuses on the impact of small- versus large-scale agriculture in the battle to feed the world. Wise draws on fieldwork in Mexico, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and India. 

Wise was interviewed by Tracy Frisch in Acres U.S.A. magazine. In this blog post, we offer up his alternative views and summarise some of his key arguments and philosophies. 

The world’s population is expected to reach close to 10 billion people by 2020. At a time when climate change is making it increasingly difficult to successfully grow crops, feeding a population of 10 billion is a daunting challenge. In response to this challenge, corporate and philanthropic leaders in developed countries are calling for major investments in industrial agriculture, including genetically modified seed technologies. Wise argues that these agribusiness investments frequently are shoring up corporate interests, rather than contributing to the greater good. 

Sustainable solutions from the small-scale

Wise produces stats indicating that most of the world is fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers. These are people with simple tools and few resources, but people who are knowledgeable about what to grow and how. He believes that potentially, it’s these farmers who could lead the way as the world warms and population increases.

These small-scale farmers are:

  • Rebuilding soils with ecologically sound practices
  • Nourishing the diversity of native crops 
  • Not using chemicals or imported seeds
  • Growing more and healthier food.

Despite the low-cost solutions to the world’s food crisis offered by many small-scale farmers, they are falling prey to the policies of agribusiness firms. 

The pitfalls of the modern agricultural model 

“When it came to food security and climate change, adaptation and getting people out of poverty, I saw policymakers all over the world ignoring the low-cost solutions all around them offered by their very own small-scale farmers.”

Most agribusiness firms promote industrial agriculture in developing communities. However, these approaches are heavily reliant on external inputs like commercial fertilisers and seeds – things that don’t regenerate year-after-year. Small-scale farmers can’t afford to keep buying chemicals and low-diversity seeds that ultimately degrade the fertility of the soil, the foundation for future food production. 

But who is letting these foreign investors intervene?

Wise refers to “land giveaways”. “In developing countries, national and sometimes local governments, who are desperate for foreign investment or for capital, or are just corrupt, are the ones giving the land to foreign investors.” 

This foreign investment usually comes not from governments, but from private companies exploiting a nation’s land for their own financial gain; for example, by increasing the sale of their seeds and fertilisers. 

The food of tomorrow comes from the soil of today

Wise avers: “We are literally eating our tomorrows, devouring the natural resource base on which future food production depends – from soil to water to the climate – and even undermining seed diversity.”

Many small-scale farmers have been living off the land for generations; they use minimal inputs and employ sustainable farming methods by default. There’s a lot of wisdom we can learn from them. At Zylem, we believe that sustainability is being, and can be, achieved in large-scale farming operations too, and acknowledge their contribution towards food security. And it all starts with the soil. 

Get in touch to find out more about our products and services that promote sustainability and long-term food security: https://www.zylemsa.co.za/contact-us/

Interested in reading the full interview? 

Visit Acres USA to purchase the August 2019 issue and read the original article along with other interesting content. 

You can follow Tim on Twitter/Instagram @TimothyAWise.

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