It’s getting crowded on the ranch. In fact, by 2050 there will be 9 billion of us sharing the planet, and if they’re anything like me, that’s a lot of hungry people. This will mean the small matter of doubling our food production within the next 20 years or so. With the earth already using approximately 70% of its freshwater for agriculture, and climate change wreaking havoc with weather patterns, the future of food production and water supply is far from certain. Add to this the urbanization of the planet (approximately 1.2 million people move from rural to urban areas every week) - and we have ourselves a dilly of a pickle.
I ain’t gonna work on mega’s farm no more
Mega farms dominate the landscape in much of the Americas and Europe where adaptation of modern practices, seeds and technology has helped to increase harvests, reduce waste and achieve a high level of productivity. However, the space available for farming in these areas is finite, especially if we don’t want to encroach on our forests any more than we have already.
As yields in developed countries stagnate, agribusinesses and biotechnology companies are turning to the yield potential of smaller independent famers. Experts expect the real growth in the next 20 years to come from the millions of these smallholders, particularly in South East Asia and Africa.
Losing the plot
Inadequate rural development is leaving huge numbers of smallholder farmers out of economic growth. Their plight is exacerbated by poor access to technology, credit and modern supply chains. This is contributing to the exodus of young men and women to cities in the search of wealth and the abandonment of huge areas of arable land. A chance exists for agribusinesses to engage small farmers - to help them move from subsistence to entrepreneurship - and re-focus their gaze away from the lure of the bright lights.
This opportunity is most obvious in Asia, where almost 90% of the world’s smallholder farms exist and where rural populations still outnumber the urban. In South East Asia, agriculture plays a central role in supporting the livelihoods of a huge percentage of the rural inhabitants, with a large proportion of these in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Back at the ranch
Many small farmers are left lacking when it comes to the luxury of modern farming technology. The one piece of tech that most have access to, however, is a mobile phone and this is where the solution lies. Mobile messages can be used to relay best practice techniques, weather warnings, planting schedules and market prices to thousands of small farmers no matter their location or level of education. This data can offer smallholders an opportunity to produce higher yields and sell any surplus stock on the open market for a fair amount.
The pertinent question we have to ask ourselves is not whether smallholder farmers have a role to play in global food security, but how we as marketers can tap into this lucrative market and help these independent growers to become an integral part of the global food supply chain. The answer, it seems, is mobile.
Brandtone recently launched Grower Connect with Syngenta which will see us engage with up to 25 million smallholder farmers across 6 Asian markets in the next 5 years.
Colin Staunton is Global Marketing Manager at Brandtone HQ in Dublin.