What outcomes does society want from its food systems and what role can which small-scale farmers play in delivering on these outcomes? What are desirable outcomes for which groups of small-scale farmers? How does all this vary from location to location and country to country. Which outcomes are in whose interests? Where are the trade-offs and where are the synergies? Despite overarching goals, including the SDGs, clarity about longer-term desired outcomes that tackle difficult questions about trade-offs and illustrate costs and benefits of different pathways are largely lacking. Without such detail it hard to have sensible integrated intervention strategies that can make a difference.
It is notable for most of the literature on small-scale agriculture that relatively little attention is given to trade-offs and the implications for bringing about change. These trade-offs will mostly play out at national and local levels, and it is at these scales that they need to be assessed in detail. Any substantial policy change to support the transformation of small-scale agriculture is going to quickly bump into trade-offs that have economy wide and deep political implications. This box provides a framework for exploring trade-offs.
Trade-offs can be thought about in three dimensions, issues, time and place. Issues are the trade-offs between competing interests or system outcomes – eating meat vs protecting the environment for example. Time is the trade-off between short and longer-term consequences and place is the trade-off between impacts for different localities. Transformation of small-scale agriculture to be more profitable and sustainable and to produce a healthier diversity of food requires considering trade-offs from localised technical issues to global policy issues. For example, what is the trade-off using crop residue to feed livestock vs using it to replenish soil organic matter, or what is the trade-off for economic and environmental outcomes for a predominantly local food system vs one that is heavily based on international trade flows.
For any particular country what might be the longer-term vision for the numbers and types of small-scale farmers and in which locations that could achieve commercial viability, giving them a living income? At what scale would they need to operate and what would be the implications? How many small-scale farmers will need to transition to alternative livelihoods over what periods and how might this be supported?
The food systems framework identifies three overarching food systems outcomes; economic and social wellbeing, food and nutrition security, and environmental sustainability. These provide a starting point for specifying desired outcomes, trade-offs and synergies. The model also provides a starting point for considering macro-level trade-offs in the food system between the three food system outcomes of economic and social well-being, food and nutrition security and environmental sustainability. Currently our food systems are trading-off longer-term environmental sustainability and human health against meeting shorter-term calorie needs, desire for increased animal protein and food industry profits. These macro level trade-off flow into any options for the transformation of small-scale agriculture.
Desirable small-scale agriculture outcomes: