Small farms constitute most of the world’s farms and are a central focus of sustainable agricultural development. However, the relationship between farm size and production, profitability, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions remains contested. Here, we synthesize current knowledge through an evidence review and meta-analysis and show that smaller farms, on average, have higher yields and harbour greater crop and non-crop biodiversity at the farm and landscape scales than do larger farms. We find little conclusive evidence for differences in resource-use efficiency, greenhouse gas emission intensity and profits. Our findings highlight the importance of farm size in mediating some environmental and social outcomes relevant to sustainable development. We identify a series of research priorities to inform land- and market-based policies that affect smallholders globally.
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The computer code that support the findings of this study is available in the Supplementary Information.
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We acknowledge funding from the University of British Columbia 4-Year Doctoral Fellowship & Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight grant no. 435-2016-0154.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Michael Clark and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Ricciardi, V., Mehrabi, Z., Wittman, H. et al. Higher yields and more biodiversity on smaller farms. Nat Sustain (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00699-2