How Large Retailers can work with Smallholders to Promote Sustainable Agriculture Intensification
As has been widely discussed in development circles, global food supply needs to increase 70% by 2050 to keep up with population growth and diet changes.
This raises serious questions. How do we generate enough food without cutting down every last tree, and using every last drop of water? And how can we do it while preserving farmer livelihoods and keeping food affordable?
The intersection of big—in the form of international retailers—and small—in the form of smallholders—provides compelling insight and hope for sustainable agriculture intensification.
As the world’s largest grocer, Walmart sources from farms of all sizes, and smallholders play a particularly important role in providing fruits and vegetables (among other commodities) for our hundreds of millions of customers in 27 countries. We estimate that Walmart is sourcing $4 billion in goods from 1.2 million to 1.4 million small and medium-sized farmers.
Large-scale retailers do of course encounter multiple challenges in sourcing from smallholders: lack of transportation to get product to market; lack of processing infrastructure to produce higher-value-added products; suboptimal farming practices (resulting in lower yields, inferior quality, environmental issues, and/or food safety issues); insufficient capital at farm level to fund needed seed, fertilizer, and tools; fragmentation; and—in some cases—ongoing local disputes regarding land and water access rights.
While these challenges are real, Walmart has found that large retailers and smallholders can accelerate improvements in the social and environmental sustainability of the food system, especially by partnering with the development community, investors, and governments.
Here are five examples of how a large retailer can contribute to sustainable development, working with smallholders:
First, a retailer’s ability to make longer-term, higher-volume commitments—and provide technical assistance—can help provide farmers with the certainty and tools they need to invest in improvements. When farmers are more confident that their products will be bought at a known time and price, they can make changes that increase yields, optimize inputs, and improve their livelihoods. In exchange, retailers secure higher quality produce.
In Kenya, for example, Walmart is undertaking a project to help train 400 smallholder growers who produce the delicious sweet yellow passion fruits we sell in our ASDA stores. Through our work with Wilmar Flowers Limited, TechnoServe, and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, women and men have been trained in good agricultural practices, productivity and quality. At the end of the first phase of the project, we saw our growers’ passion fruit incomes increase 71%.