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Natural Resource Governance around the World

The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture

in the Context of Global Trade Negotiations. Policy Brief # 4.

Written by: Peter Rosset

Writing date:

Organizations: Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First)

Type of document: Paper / Document for wide distribution

Documents of reference

Rosset, Peter. The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture. FOOD FIRST. 1999.


What kind of agricultural system can better tackle the biggest present challenges of humankind?

  • to provide healthy food in sufficient quantity to the population of the world,

  • to manage natural resources without destroying them,

  • to provide work to peasants and rural workers unable to be employed in cities or in non agricultural activities,

  • to reduce conflicts and be part of building a peaceful context.

We have to add to this list the struggle against the climate global warming.

In several regions around the world, we are witnessing the development of a large scale capitalistic agriculture based on the use of salaried workers, using lots of industrial inputs and often Genetically Modified Organisms. In this context, the respective advantages of large production and small farm agriculture goes on being a key question. On the other side, the Vía Campesina vigorously promotes small and family farming, developing itself in harmony with the nature (agro-ecology).

Peter Rosset’s paper the Multiple Functions Benefits and of Small Farm Agriculture in the Context of Global Trade Negotiations offers an interesting demonstration of the interest for the society of small farm agriculture. Although the article is relatively old, the arguments used keep on all their interest.

Brief documents of this kind are few and too rarely used. It is the reason why we decided to give access to this paper to the users of AGTER’s website.


Peter Rosset quotes the last worldwide studies of FAO on this issue, which were carried out in the middle of the 80s’. Comparative economic diagnosis of the present agrobusiness and small farm agriculture remain even largerly to be done. Many specific works and numerous local diagnosis do exist, but not studies on a large scale.

It is an important issue on which AGTER wants to work. We need updated economic and ecological arguments which take into account the recent evolutions to be able to convince the whole society that a harmonious and lasting development of the planet is not compatible with the present processes of massive destruction of peasantries provoked by the trade globalization.

We thank the author as well as the present director of Food First, Eric Holt, who allowed us to reproduce it here. The paper is available in English and in Spanish.

Peter Rosset, PhD, is a former Co-Director of Food First. He works today with the Centro of Estudios para el Cambio el in el Campo Mexicano and as co-coordinator of the Land Research Action Network [LRAN->].

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