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Clarion Congress & Hotel, Eclipse


Maria Rivera; Teresa Pinto-Correia; Alejandro Guarín; Paola Hernández

Topic: Small farms as potential intervention points to improve the sustainability of food systems

Key words: small farms; sustainability; food and nutrition security; agricultural development;


Adoption of a systemic approach to understanding food issues is imperative if
we are committed to achieve the goals set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development. This is because the processes affecting food define the linkages
between people, prosperity and planet. Food systems’ development depends
on natural resources, and paradoxically, food systems are currently also
responsible for their depletion and degradation. In order to ensure that people
have access to safe and nutritious food, in suitable quantities, natural resources
need to be managed and used through sustainable and effective practices.
Since the industrial revolution, food systems have been largely dominated by
large-scale farming, which benefits from economies of scale and increases in
productivity and efficiency. Large-scale farming is also closely connected to the
supply chain, through which it is granted bargaining power to negotiate and
play within global markets. This has resulted on smaller and alternative types of
farms – and farming practices – undergoing detrimental consequences for their
development and continuation. They have become the unseen players in policy
with all the negative consequences this entails.
In spite of all this, small farms continue to exist today in many parts of the World,
especially in Europe; generating employment, forging communities, and
growing food for thousands of people, as well as holding together the fabric of
rural landscapes. Thus, small farms could be an effective point of intervention in
food systems to increase their sustainability. However, little is known about what
specific role are small farms currently playing in food systems, or what structural
and socio-economic characteristics and factors shape the dynamics within their
food systems.
This paper presents a comparative analysis of the empirical case studies of small
farms in 12 Mediterranean regional food systems located in 6 different
countries: Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Tunisia.
Quantitative and qualitative data was drawn from 187 key expert interviews,
355 interviews to small farms and 9 focus groups in total. Results show both
similarities and differences across food systems related to territory, local
implementation of sectoral regulations, small farmers’ profiles, networking
strategies, and governance patterns. Identified variables hinted at the diversity
of actors, as well as the complex dynamics defining their interaction. This
systemic analysis to food processes at the micro-level enabled to determine the
contribution that small farms might have to their corresponding regional food
Presenting the diversity of these realities, and the role small farms play in the
food system, served to assess that small farms could be effective points of
intervention for policy makers to improve the sustainability of food systems, as
well as to promote regional food and nutrition security.

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