The most recent estimate of the number of farms in the world is around 570 million.1
This figure – as the researchers stress – is a crude estimate that is likely to be lower than the actual number of farms for a few reasons. First, Lowder et al. (2016) make this estimate based on the latest agricultural census data from 167 countries which represent 96% of the world’s population, 97% of the population active in agriculture, and 90% of agricultural land. But, 40 smaller countries had no estimates and were not included. If they were included, this figure would be higher.
Second, the latest agricultural census data for many countries is outdated. The majority of these estimates come from census data from 1990, 2000 or 2010. However, in some countries, the latest census data is much older. For example, the latest census for Brunei, Nigeria and Zimbabwe was 1960. The number of farms in several countries is likely to have increase since then.
It’s therefore likely that this 570 million figure is a lower-bound estimate.
The number of farms in each country as of the latest agricultural census is shown in the map.
The chart and map here shown the distribution of the average farm size by country.2
In general we see a positive relationship between income and average farm size. Poorer countries tend to have smaller farms, and this increases towards middle and high incomes.
How doe the distribution of farm sizes vary within a country?
In the charts we see the distribution by two measures. First, the number of farms of each size (in other words, the number of farms that are less than 1 hectare; 2 to 5 hectares etc.). Second, the distribution by agricultural area i.e. how many hectares in total fall within each farm size bracket.
We see large differences across the world. Lower-income countries tend to have many more smaller farms (less than 5 hectares, or even less than 1 hectare). High-income countries tend to have most farms in the range of tens to hundreds of hectares.
China is an important stand-out, being a middle-income country that is still dominated by lots of smallholder farms. In its last agricultural census, 93% of its farms were less than 1 hectare.
Globally – based on a sample of 111 countries and territories with a total of nearly 460 million farms – 72% of farms are smaller than one hectare in size; 12% are 1–2 ha in size; and 10% are between 2 and 5 ha. Only 6% of farms are larger than 5 hectares. Note that this is based on the number of farms and not their percentage of total agricultural area, which can give very different results. Despite accounting for only 16% of farms, those larger than 2 hectares account for 88% of the world’s farmland.3
How has the size of farms changed over time?
This map shows which countries have seen an increase, decrease or little change in the average farm size since 1960.
We see that most high-income countries have seen an increase in average farm size. In contrast, most low and middle-income countries have seen a decline, which more disaggregation of land into smallholder farms.
You can see the change in average farm size by country here.
This chart shows the share of farms that are defined as smallholders. The definition of a ‘smallholder farm’ can vary: some classify it as a farm less than one hectares; others as less than 2 hectares; or even 5 hectares.
Here we show the share of farms that are less than two hectares.
This chart shows the share of agricultural land that is operated as smallholder farms. A smallholder farm is defined as being less than two hectares.
This chart shows the distribution of the types of foods grown by farm size. This data is sourced from Ricciardi et al. (2018), which mapped the distribution of global food production by farm size.4
The smallest farms (those less than 2 hectares) devote the largest percentage of their overall crop production to cereals. They also tend to grow more fruit, pulses and roots and tubers. Medium-sized farms tend to produce more vegetables and nuts. While the largest farms tend to produce more oilcrops (such as soybeans or oil palm).
This chart shows the distribution of the allocation of crops to their end use by farm size. In other words, how much of crops grown are allocated towards human food, animal feed, and industrial uses such as biofuels. This data is sourced from Ricciardi et al. (2018), which mapped the distribution of global food production by farm size.5
The smallest farms (those less than 2 hectares) tend to allocate the greatest share – between 55% to 59% – of their crop production to direct human food.
As farm size increases, more production tend to be allocated towards animal feed and processing into other products. Farms in the range of 200 to 500 hectares allocated the greatest share towards animal feed (16% to 29%). The largest farms (greater than 1000 hectares) allocated 12% to 32% to processing.