This paper uses the sustainable livelihoods framework to explore the contribution of smallholder production to food security in some sub-Saharan African countries and relates it to the South African case. Noting that many of the world’s hungry are smallholder farmers, it is clear that food insecurity is closely linked to the livelihood strategies of these farm households. As previous studies have shown, food insecurity is linked to livelihood assets, strong institutional support and a favourable external environment. In particular, the paper finds that food security depends on cereal output, budgetary support to agriculture, agricultural value added and poverty – all variables strongly linked to the sustainable livelihoods framework. Since most poor rural households rely on agricultural production for a significant share of their household income, increasing agricultural productivity is critical to increase food security and reduce rural poverty.