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About two-thirds of the developing world’s 3 billion rural people live in about 475 million small farm households, working on land plots smaller than 2 hectares. Many are poor and food insecure and have limited access to markets and services. Their choices are constrained, but they farm their land and produce food for a substantial proportion of the world’s population. Besides farming they have multiple economic activities, often in the informal economy, to contribute towards their small incomes.

These small farms depend predominantly on family labour. In China, nearly 98 percent of farmers cultivate farms smaller than 2 hectares – the country alone accounts for almost half the world’s small farms. In India about 80 percent of farmers are small. In Ethiopia and Egypt, farms smaller than 2 hectares constitute nearly 90 percent of the total number of farms. In Mexico, 50 percent of the farmers are small; in Brazil smallholders make up for 20 percent of the total number of farmers.

The differences in smallholder farms between countries can be significant, and often reflect differences in the stages of development across countries. This is because the evolution of the small farm is intrinsically related to the process of economic development.