CARE's journey towards a new approach to smallholder agriculture in a changing climate

by 12th Feb 2014
Farming a smallholding plot in Kenya Farming a smallholding plot in Kenya © CARE

An update from a CARE workshop on smallholder agriculture, climate change and food and nutrition security.

This is a chance to make the elevator pitch, to a new audience, on a new CARE initiative around the old gems of food and nutrition security, climate change, and that outcast sector that is finally coming back into favour, agriculture. Feedback welcome as to whether I can hold your attention on this for the next two minutes. Here goes:

Smallholder farmers – that is 200 million farms across the world of up to two hectares – will not in 10 or 20 years’ time contribute in the way they do currently as a group of producers. As a society concerned about ending poverty and seeing the 21st century become a more equal one, the well-being of these one billion people matters. But what will be the future of smallholder farmers and agricultural labourers in the next decades?

Here’s what a few of us posited: the changes we are currently seeing will be exacerbated with youth increasingly disinterested in agriculture; difficulty in harvesting enough either for the family or to sell in local markets; and even more tenuous tenure or ownership over the land. The consequences in the next decade or so will be accentuated – for example, the wider movement of people to the city as poor crop patterns, lack of secure land tenure and impedingly difficult crop growth mean populations cannot manage adequately on the land and will be increasingly vulnerable to shocks.

The impact will be felt directly in the north also, where the lack of predictable supply will result in ever-increasing food prices. Yes, it’s easy to speak in generalities but, despite detractors, the changing climate will have increasing impacts on the world in a way that our current structures are insufficiently cognisant of – and unable to deal with, whether internationally or even at organisational level.

So, this week our food security, climate change and agriculture teams came together as a new theme team under the name of Acres; to seek an approach for CARE’s current and future work with the one billion smallholder farmers, labourers and their families.

The litmus test

Our approach will be concretised in due course, but we have agreed our litmus test for it.

Our aim is to see smallholder agriculture that can:


  • Sustain agricultural livelihoods, production and the environment for farmers that want to engage 
  • it will be Productive – to support consumable food for the household or to sell in local markets
  • it must be Equitable – ensuring that women have the choice, capacity and structures to engage
  • it must be Resilient – to withstand individual household shocks and be protected against repeated natural hazards

and scaling up is critical across the principles so that other actors, particularly governments take on the approach too, to ensure that it extends out to all smallholders. And finally, if it is about farming for the future, it must engage and be targeted at not just women, but particularly the youth too. 

Development never tires of acronyms, so we couldn’t quite leave a workshop without a new one. So this sustainable, equitable, resilient, productive approach is obviously SuPER, which will produce SuPER food, for a SuPER world. Or, before we forget the need to focus on youth, a SYRuP-E one.



Larissa Pelham

Larissa was formerly CARE’s Food Security Advisor responsible for providing technical advice on any aspect of CARE’s work that involves food security. Her role involved advising country offices on their food security programming; coordinating knowledge and response in food security with other NGOs and the UN system; and guaranteeing that CARE and others learn from how CARE’s work with climate change, adaptation and resilience, governance and private sector engagement impacts on food security, in order to continually improve our work.

Her previous work has covered research, programming and advisory roles across a range of NGOs, UN, multilateral institutions and think tanks. She has specialised in how social protection, safety nets and disaster risk reduction contribute to food security and poverty reduction. Her work has covered Asia, Africa and Latin America, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa, in particular.