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The topic of family farms has been gaining prominence in the academic, policy, and donor communities in recent years. Small farms dominate the agricultural landscape in the developing world, providing the largest source of employment and income to the rural poor, yet smallholders remain highly susceptible to poverty and hunger. With the advance of globalization and greater integration of agricultural markets, the need for increases in agricultural productivity for family farms is particularly pressing. Raising productivity and output of small farmers would not only increase their incomes and food security, but also stimulate the rest of the economy and contribute to broad-based food security and poverty alleviation. In this paper, Michael Lipton builds an argument for greater focus on pro-smallholder crop science as a key solution to generate increases in productivity and income. Increasing the levels of investment into agricultural technology, improving water and land use and distribution, and creating positive incentives for developing-country farmers come to the forefront of the paper as critical steps that must be taken to ensure massive reduction in global poverty. Favorable demographic trends over the next few decades provide a window of opportunity for reforms and action that must not be squandered. The future of smallholders is an important research theme at IFPRI. Several studies are currently underway that address the impact of changing agricultural markets on small farmers. In addition, IFPRI and its 2020 Vision Initiative is collaborating with the Overseas Development Institute and Imperial College London in organizing a research workshop on “The Future of Small Farms” in June 2005 in Wye, England, that will bring together leading experts to review the available evidence on the current and future status of smallholders in the world. We hope that the release of this discussion paper on the eve of “The Future of Small Farms” workshop will stimulate and enrich the debate and provide valuable insights for articulating critical steps to strengthening family farms. The paper significantly contributes to developing this emerging theme at IFPRI, helping to identify research priorities and to better position IFPRI to undertake policy research on the future of small farms. It is an important step toward accumulating a body of knowledge on the topic and shaping an agenda for action.


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