This paper reviews the role of smallholder farmers with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their double function in the adoption of the SDGs and their socio‐economic limitations have made it difficult for them to fulfil the expectations as promoters of sustainable development. Our analysis showed that 13 SDGs and respective targets address these socio‐economic limitations. We identified that the satisfaction of basic human needs is a central issue for smallholder farmers. Other essential issues are (a) innovative education and training options for producers; (b) new organisational forms such as cooperatives and start‐ups along the value chain from production to logistics and marketing; (c) financial support; (d) access to farming information; (e) suitable, low‐cost, and simple technological solutions and innovations; and (f) an enabling institutional environment. We grouped these issues under the categories “social,” “environment,” “economic,” and “governance.” To assess the double function of smallholder famers, we proposed to apply the handprint approach. This approach focuses on positive sustainability performance and on the social dimension, after modification for food and agriculture. It can therefore illustrate the potential of smallholder farmers as a backbone for sustainable development.