Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty


Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.

Farmers receive just one-quarter of the money that people in middle and high-income countries spend on food eaten at home and away.

Christopher Barrett at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and his colleagues studied private expenditure on food in 61 countries, representing 90% of the world economy. From 2005 to 2015, farmers received 27% of the money people spent on food consumed at home, and even less, on average, of the money spent on food while dining out.

In rich countries in particular, the largest share of individuals’ food expenditure went to production, storage and distribution of processed foodstuffs. More than 35% of at-home food expenditures in India went to farmers; in the United States, that share was less than 25%.

Convenience food that is extensively processed beyond farm gates and packaged in plastic is considered unfavourable for human health and bad for the environment. Understanding the segments of the food supply chain is essential for policies and incentives aimed at achieving sustainability goals, the authors say.