Family Farming the way forward

Rahul Devnath
Published: April 2015

The International Year of Family Farming has witnessed a number of steps being taken to alleviate the problems being faced by small farmers.

farmersAbout half a century back, the world chose the path of increasing food production through intensive use of chemical inputs and natural resources as the answer to world’s growing demand for food grain. The Green Revolution was the right response for its time and avoided widespread famine in Asia. At the same time, it proved insufficient for ending hunger in the world, and over 800 million chronically undernourished people alive today are living proof of this.

Over the years, the developing world has seen an unparalleled migration of young people from rural areas to urban centres, the degradation of natural resources, increased rural poverty and chronic hunger, especially in drylands and other under developed regions. Decades of artificially low food prices have put millions of poor farmers out of business. Then, when prices rocketed, the family farmers were the least able to gain from them because they are the weakest ring in the value chain.

The so called concepts for increasing food grain production have actually had a negatively affected on developing nations as there are net food importers. We have reached the point where we now face a puzzling paradox: over 70 percent of the food insecure populations live in rural areas of the developing world, and most of them are farming for survival.

farmWhat does the combination of environmental dilapidation and continued exclusion through hunger tell us? It tells us that the responses of the past are insufficient to overcome the challenges we now face. The world needs another Green Revolution to overcome the obstacles of today – climate change, environmental degradation and continuing hunger – despite the fact that the world already produces enough food for all.

In this scenario, family farmers emerge as a central part of the solution. For our present and our future, we need to strike a better balance between international markets and local communities, between the need to increase production and preserve and use our natural resources wisely, and we need to make sure that those who are in need have access to the food they need.

The simple fact, the truth, is that family farmers represent the large majority of all farms in the world. There are 500 million family farms out of a total of 570 million farms. Furthermore, they are almost all small or very small farms. Farms with up to 2 hectares of land account for 84% of all farms but for only 12% of all lands. Even so, they already produce most of the food in the world. And they provide rural employment opportunities and are agents of our natural resources. For all probability, they do this without adequate support. We can thus only imagine their potential if they received the assistance they need.

This is what the International Year of Family Farming has shown us: the potential of family farming, the challenges they face and how we can support this diverse group that includes smallholders and medium scale farmers, peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional communities, forest farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists, collectors and many others.

farm-quoteThis year’s World Food Day also coincides with the International Year of Family Farming, designated by the UN General Assembly in 2012, through a resolution that recognized the important contribution that family farming and smallholder farming can play “in providing food security and eradicating poverty in the attainment of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

Through an intense worldwide policy dialogue involving family farmers, governments, external agencies, research organizations and the private sector, the UN has debated how to best support family farmers in their huge diversity across the world. UN seeks our continued support for the development of policies conducive to promoting sustainable family farming and to create a better understanding of the needs, constraints and potential of family farmers. But encouraging family farming is not only a concern for the agricultural sector; it is also closely interconnected with issues of nutrition and poverty. 76 per cent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, where agriculture is their main source of livelihood. By not prioritizing children living on these rural farms, where access to schools and clinics remains challenging, we are missing the children most in need. Malnutrition remains the single largest cause of child mortality.

It’s a cycle – with an enabling policy environment, family farmers will improve food, nutrition and economic security, and also help to safeguard soil health, restore biodiversity, recycle nutrients, build climate resilience and save precious water. On the other hand pro-family farming policies will also be win-win if they encompass those that support agro-ecological practices. The initiative by UN for the International Year of Family Farming has raised the bar for public participation for such causes. We must continue this momentum. Our future depends on equitable, efficient and sustainable agriculture and food systems. These systems greatly depend on vibrant and prosperous family farming sectors in all regions of the world.

 - Rahul is a well travelled Bangalore based photo journalist with experience in reporting, writing and communication. Currently, onboard The Jain University Press, he specializes in aviation and technology.