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Publication | 26 April 2021

Which farms feed the world and has farmland become more concentrated?

Numerous attempts have been made to estimate the share of the world’s food produced by family farms and by farms of different sizes. This paper updates estimates of the number of farms worldwide, their distribution and that of farmland, using the most recent agricultural censuses available, in combination with survey data where needed. It finds there are more than 608 million farms in the world, more than 90% of which are family farms (by our definition), and they occupy around 70–80% of farmland and produce roughly 80% of the world’s food in value terms. The paper also underscores the importance of not referring to family farms and small farms (i.e., those of less than two hectares) interchangeably: small farms account for 84% of all farms worldwide, as per the available census information, but operate only around 12% of all agricultural land, and produce roughly 35% of the world’s food (well below the 80% produced by family farms). A comprehensive examination of changes in farmland distribution over time is also provided to showcase the increased concentration of farmland among large farms as economies grow. The largest 1% of farms in the world (those larger than 50 ha) operate more than 70% of the world's farmland. These estimates are not free from bias given existing data gaps. The paper underscores the need to ensure that agricultural censuses cover non-household farms in order to enhance our understanding of agriculture and food production worldwide.

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