January 28, 2014
Agronomist and director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Today we are at a crossroads: approximately 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger because they can not eat properly, although there is no shortage of food in the World.
The current search is for truly sustainable farming systems that can meet the needs of food on the planet. And nothing is closer to the current paradigm of sustainable food production than family farming.
The United Nations set 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. It's a perfect opportunity to highlight the role of farmers in eradicating hunger and conservation of natural resources, core elements of the sustainable future we want.
Supporting family farms is not opposed to specialized large-scale agriculture, which also has an important role in ensuring global food production and faces its own challenges, including the adoption of sustainable approaches. We have much to learn about sustainable practices of farmers, since most of the World experience in sustainable agricultural systems was acquired by agriculture family.
From generation to generation, family farmers produce and exchange knowledge and skills, while preserving and enhancing many of the practices and technologies that can support agricultural sustainability. Through the use of innovative techniques such as building terraces and the adoption of zero tillage practices, family farmers often managed to maintain production in marginal lands.
Conservation and sustainable use of natural resources are rooted in the productive logic of family farming and that is the difference of specialized large-scale agriculture. The highly diverse nature of agricultural activities places family farm in a central role in the promotion of environmental sustainability and biodiversity protection, and contributes to a healthier and more balanced diet.
Family farmers also have a key role in local circuits of production, trade and consumption, which are important not only in the fight against hunger, but also in job creation, income generation and in promoting and diversifying local economies.
500 million different types of family farming in the World are estimated, which represents, on average, over 80% of farms. In developed countries as well as in developing countries, family farmers are the main producers of food for local consumption and the main "managers" of food safety.
In the past, family farmers were quite often considered a problem that had to be solved and object of social policies with limited potential. That's the mentality we have to change. Family farmers are not part of the problem. Rather, part of the solution to food security and sustainable development.
What family farmers need is similar worldwide: technical and policy assistance based on their knowledge to enhance the sustainability of increased productivity; appropriate technologies; quality inputs that respond to their needs and respect their culture and traditions; special attention to women and young farmers, strengthening producer organizations and cooperatives; better access to land, water, credit and markets, and efforts to improve participation on the value chain.
The 2014 International Family Farming Year will provide us with the unique opportunity to revitalize this critical sector for the good of all mankind feed.