Hunger is a problem all around the world, but in some places,that problem is getting better, and in some places it isn’t. So what are the improvers doing differently than the rest of the world? There’s one big difference.

The USDA takes a regular look at the state of countries with hunger problems around the world and separate out countries whose problems seem to be getting better from those that are getting worse. In their most recent look, they found one key thing that seemed to separate the two: Countries that were getting better had a steady uptick in the yield of their farms, as you can see in the graph below.

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There are lots of different ways to get a higher-yield: higher-yield plants is the obvious one, but also plant varieties that are better tailored to the climate, better farming techniques, and better fertilizer use. So why wouldn’t all countries go for it?

Well, there’s an initial cost that comes along with it. New seeds, new equipment, new fertilizers, better training, these all cost money. And in places where hunger is already a problem, the majority of farms are often already running at just a bare subsistence level.

Instead, in places where money is scarce, but land much less so, the other way to try and up your yield is to stretch the boundaries of your farm a little further. But as this graph shows, the long-term solution isn’t in bigger farms; it’s in better ones.

Chart: USDA / ERS. Top image: jtoddpope/Shutterstock.