Are Small Farms Sustainable by Nature?—Review of an Ongoing Misunderstanding in Agroecology
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Today, agroecology is more than a science; it is a movement that advocates for a sustainable redesign of the global food system. Some of its acknowledged protagonists plead for a redesign based on the support of and for small-scale farming because small farms are considered more sustainable than large farms. The present review explores the arguments that leading agroecologists use for justifying their preference for small (frequently peasant) farms. In this review, small farms are defined as possessing a mean agricultural area of maximum two hectares, being family-owned, emphasizing outdoor production, and annually producing at least two different crops or livestock. Peasant farms are defined as subsistent small farms in developing countries. The review includes an overview of the current state of small farms and their most severe challenges. Agroecological publications of the last thirty years were scanned for arguments that sustain the hypothesis that small farms are more sustainable. It was found that there are no studies that directly compare the sustainability of farms based on their size. Instead, most studies cited to confirm the sustainability of small farms compare farms that differ in terms of both, size and farm management. Hence, it is likely that the reason for the advanced sustainability of small farms is their management, not their size. The assertion that small farms are a priori more sustainable than large ones is not supportable. Misleading use of the term “small farms” may impede the efforts of agroecology to stimulate sustainable food production.
Ebel, R. (2020). Are small farms sustainable by nature?—Review of an ongoing misunderstanding in agroecology. Challenges In Sustainability, 8(1), 17-29.