Small Scale Farming UN Report

Significant support is needed to make changes in the food, agriculture and trade systems in order to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, to increase diversity on farms, and to support small-scale farmers, nurturing strong local food systems. These are the conclusion in a publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The report was titled Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late. It included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world, including a commentary from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).” The report includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules. The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.”

The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”


The UNCTAD report identified key factors for agricultural transformation:

  • “Increasing soil carbon content and better integration between crop and livestock production, and increased incorporation of agroforestry and wild vegetation

  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of livestock production

  • Reduction of GHGs through sustainable peatland, forest and grassland management

  • Optimization of organic and inorganic fertilizer use, including through closed nutrient cycles in agriculture

  • Reduction of waste throughout the food chains

  • Changing dietary patterns toward climate-friendly food consumption

  • Reform of the international trade regime for food and agriculture”

IATP’s contribution focuses on the effects of trade liberalization on agricultural systems. It explores how “trade liberalization both at the WTO and in regional deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had increased volatility and corporate concentration in agriculture markets, while undermining the development of locally-based, agroecological systems that better support farmers. The report’s findings are in stark contrast to the accelerated push for new free trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which expand a long discredited model of economic development designed primarily to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy.”

In 2007, another important report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), with contributions from experts from over 100 countries, came to very similar conclusions. The IAASTD report concluded that “Business as Usual is Not an Option,” and the “shift toward agro-ecological approaches was urgent and necessary for food security and climate resilience.”

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