© Jordan Graesser

© Jordan Graesser

Why farm and field size matters: Exploring their role for food security and sustainable agriculture in South America

The project is funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 796451.
Logo_FFSizePlease have a look at my blog for (more or less regular) news regarding my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship project FFSize.


Agriculture is the dominant land use on Earth, covering approximately one third of its terrestrial surface, and crucial for sustaining human life by providing food, feed, and bioenergy. The importance of agriculture will increase over the next decades as the global demand for agricultural products is expected to rise due to continuing population growth, shifts in consumption, and the increasing role of bioenergy. Agricultural activities incur immense environmental costs such as widespread degradation and loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, high greenhouse gas emissions, and alterations of global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and also societal costs by increasing social competition and disparities. Consequently, the question of how to meet the growing demand for agricultural products while minimising agriculture’s environmental and social impacts is a central challenge.

Ensuring food security in sustainable ways is of utmost importance to safeguard future human well-being, and targets several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Societal Challenges of the EC’s Horizon 2020 strategy. Food security involves more than just producing enough food, but includes access (e.g., sufficient income to purchase food), utilisation (i.e., sufficient intake of calories, proteins, and nutrients), and stability (i.e., ability to obtain sufficient food over time). As current global agricultural systems fall short of meeting some of these aspects in many locations, and are arguably not sustainable, several different approaches have been advocated to address these challenges. These range from diversified farming to sustainable intensification to organic farming, but have deficits in addressing all the different components of food security and environmental and social sustainability.

Recently, smallholder support was defined as a policy priority to address food security, raise the livelihoods of rural communities, and lower environmental costs. Small farms (< 2ha) constitute more than 80% of all farms globally and are mostly in family ownership or operation. Smallholder systems are generally characterised by a high diversity of agricultural and nutritional production, which is often directly accessible by people. Despite these considerable benefits, the majority of these smallholders are themselves prone to food insecurity, poverty, and undernourishment. The ongoing transition in global agriculture toward large-scale farming is making smallholder agriculture increasingly economically unviable, threatening their livelihoods and food security. Supporting small-scale farmers, thus, requires a sound understanding of the operational realities of farms with respect to their size, production, productivity, socio-environmental context, and outcomes.


The overall research goal of FFSize is to advance knowledge about size-related characteristics of agriculture in non-Andean South America, in order to inform future land-use decisions and to foster the implementation of targeted policies to support smallholders’ livelihoods. Specifically, FFSize will link farm and field size patterns to each other, identify their key determinants, quantify their links to land-use intensity as well as socio-economic and environmental outcomes, and to identify potential trade-offs between production and impacts from agriculture.


Ralf Seppelt, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Germany
Navin Ramankutty, University of British Columbia, Canada
Hannah Wittman, University of British Columbia, Canada
Zia Mehrabi, University of British Columbia, Canada
Vincent Ricciardi, World Bank, USA
Jordan Graesser, The University of Queensland, Australia
Verena Seufert, VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Yann le Polain de Waroux, McGill University, Canada