The world’s 550 million smallholder farmers are amongst its poorest inhabitants, eking out a subsistence on farms smaller than 10 hectares. With minimal financial resources, they face unending challenges from weather, disease, pests, weeds, uncertain prices, and highly seasonal growing conditions.
Helping these people would seem an unlikely business prospect for a large multinational like Bayer, a global leader in life sciences. Yet, as a previous article on HBR.org has described, Bayer has successfully teamed up with private and public sector organizations to give smallholder crop farmers in India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh access to markets, financing, high-quality agricultural inputs, and education on contemporary farming and business practices. The system is based on a network of independently managed Better Life Farming Centers, each connecting up to 500 smallholder farmers to the capabilities, products, and services of Bayer and partner corporations and NGOs. This new inclusive ecosystem is already lifting a million farmers out of poverty while expanding the company’s market reach.
Bayer has been following a similar path to address the plight of hundreds of thousands of marginalized dairy ranchers with more than 24 million livestock in Southeast Mexico and Central America, and is experiencing similar results.
The typical small dairy rancher has about 25-30 head of cattle, grazing on as many hectares. They sell their daily milk production to local milk processors and artisanal cheese producers, generating bi-weekly cash payments that they use to pay workers, cancel some debts, and cover farm operating expenses. In the rainy and