Land inequality is rising with farmland increasingly dominated by a few major companies.
Just 1% of the world’s farms operate 70% of the world's crop fields, ranches and orchards.
Control over the land has become far more concentrated both directly through ownership and indirectly through contract farming, which results in more destructive monocultures and fewer carefully tended smallholdings.
Landlessness was highest in Latin America, where the poorest 50% of people owned just 1% of the land.
Worldwide, between 80% and 90% of farms are family or smallholder-owned. But they cover only a small and shrinking part of the land and commercial production.
Asia and Africa have the highest levels of smallholdings, where human input tends to be higher than chemical and mechanical factors, and where time frames are more likely to be for generations rather than 10-year investment cycles.
Over the past four decades, the biggest shift from small to big was in the United States and Europe, where ownership is in fewer hands and even individual farmers work under strict contracts for retailers, trading conglomerates and investment funds. These financial arrangements are now spreading to the developing world, which is accelerating the decline of soil quality, the overuse of water resources, and the pace of deforestation.
“The concentration of ownership and control results in a greater push for monocultures and more intensive agriculture as investment funds tend to work on 10-year cycles to generate returns,” he said. This is also connected to social problems, including poverty, migration, conflict and the spread of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19.
“Smallholder farmers, family farmers, indigenous people and small communities are much more cautious with use of land. It’s not just about return on investment; it’s about culture, identity and leaving something for the next generation. They take much more care and in the long run, they produce more per unit area and destroy less.”