Map of micronutrients shows importance of small and medium farms

October 6, 2017
An aerial view of a farm on a glorious foggy day

That different foods provide different essential micronutrients (such as calcium, vitamin A, and folate) isn’t news. But now we know which farms produce the most. New research published in the The Lancet Planetary Health is the first to map production of micronutrients worldwide on farms of different sizes, spanning 41 crops, 7 livestock products, and 14 fish groups.

The study was led by Mario Herrero of Australia, and co-authors include Paul West, James Gerber, and Leah Samberg of the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative. The researchers discovered that worldwide, small and medium farms (≤ 50 hectares) produce more than half (51–77 percent) of nearly all commodities and nutrients examined in the study. Other key findings include:

  • Large farms (> 50 ha.) reign in North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand, contributing 75–100 percent of cereal, livestock, and fruit production, while small farms (≤ 20 ha.) account for more than 75 percent of food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and China
  • The majority of global micronutrients (53–81 percent) and protein (57 percent) are produced in more diverse agricultural landscapes
  • The diversity of agricultural and nutrient production diminishes as farm size increases — but areas of the world with higher agricultural diversity produce more nutrients, irrespective of farm size

“We now have a broad view of which micronutrients are produced where, and what sized farms are producing them,” says West. This is important because it’s estimated that by 2050 there will need to be a 70 percent increase in food availability to meet the needs of our growing global population. And increasing food quantity alone is not a solution; to achieve food security and nutrition for all, food systems must be agriculturally diverse and produce food of high nutritional quality.

“We can use this information to assess food and nutrition security,” says West, “as well as to develop and target incentives for supporting farmers and linking farming to improving human health.”