Rome — Cash handouts are the best way to support smallholder farmers struggling due to drought, but for farmers experiencing wetter weather, agricultural inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides help most, a study has found.

As scientists predict changes in rainfall patterns as a result of climate change, the study’s findings could help countries and aid agencies tackle hunger more effectively. The study, published on Friday in Scientific Reports, covers nearly 2,000 smallholder farms in 12 countries in West and East Africa and Asia.

Cash was critical in the short term for farmers suffering from dry weather, because "if your farm is lacking rainfall, it doesn’t matter if you have a variety of agricultural inputs or practices", said Meredith Niles of the University of Vermont, a lead author of the study.

When rainfall is abundant, however, providing pesticides, fertiliser, veterinary medicines and livestock are the best ways to ensure farmers can salvage their harvests.

"This kind of information is what we all need to plan the most effective ways to deliver assistance," said Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for the UN’s World Food Programme. "For instance, when drought strikes in the Horn of Africa, many poor families have a very limited period before they lose all their assets and are plunged into destitution", so cash support could buy them vital time, he said.

Globally, there are about 460-million to 500-million smallholder farmers, with limited resources in terms of labour, education, training and finance. Many of the farmers were reliant on rain-fed agriculture, the study said.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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