A female farmer holds a pineapple, with a basket hanging on her back by a strap around her head.
Alex Treadway / National Geographic Creative

Sustainable Intensification for Smallholders

Reduce SourcesFood, Agriculture, and Land UseProtect Ecosystems / Shift Agriculture Practices
Support SinksLand SinksShift Agriculture Practices
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Billion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Billion $US
Net Profit
Sustainable intensification practices can increase smallholder yields, which, in theory, reduces demand to clear additional land. Practices include intercropping, ecosystem-based pest management, and equal resources for women.

Solution Summary*

There is a gender gap in agriculture in low-income countries between the resources and rights available to men who work the land and those available to women who do the same.

On average, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 60 to 80 percent of food crops in poorer parts of the world. Often unpaid or low-paid laborers, they cultivate field and tree crops, tend livestock, and grow home gardens. Most of them are part of the 475 million smallholder families who operate on less than 5 acres of land.

Women have less access to a range of resources, from land rights and credit to education and technology. Even though they farm as capably and efficiently as men, inequality in assets, inputs, and support means women produce less on the same amount of land. Closing this gender gap can improve the lives of women, their families, and communities, while addressing climate change.

If all women smallholders receive equal access to productive resources, their farm yields will rise by 20 to 30 percent; 100 to 150 million people will no longer be hungry. When agricultural plots produce well, there is less pressure to deforest for additional ground, avoiding emissions.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

This solution models reduced emissions from three sustainable intensification practices: agroecological pest management, crop diversification (integrated crop-livestock system), and capacity building (access to knowledge, training, finance etc.). These practices together result in increased yield on farms managed by smallholders. If 16.3–32.8 million hectares of farmland were managed with these three sustainable intensification practices, this solution could reduce 0.68–1.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.