In the land of humongous farms, the critical importance of small farms for food security is a counterintuitive message. But if we look at what most of the largest farms are growing in the U.S. Midwest, or Argentina and Brazil, it is corn and soybeans to feed livestock and biofuel production. Neither contribute much to supplying food—and especially good nutrition—to the billions who cannot afford meat. Meat is a welcome part of many diets, but besides being expensive, is also an inefficient means to produce protein.
But small farms also tend to produce more per acre than large farms. There has long been debate about this among economists and development scholars. It has perplexed many of them—so much so they have given it a name, “the inverse relationship,” meaning that if graphed, productivity per unit of land goes down rather than up with increasing size. Skeptics have turned the data inside out trying to see if it really holds up.