Farming Revolution Needed for Sustainable Food Production
an opinion piece on the occasion of this year being the International
Year of Family Farming, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, salutes the role
that family farmers play in eradicating hunger and conserving natural
resources. Worldwide, around 500 million family farms are the main
stewards of local food security.
points out that the Green Revolution model of agriculture is not sustainable
and we need to find “truly sustainable farming systems that can meet
the world’s future food needs. And nothing comes closer to the sustainable
food production paradigm than family farming.”
Silva highlights that international, governmental and non-governmental
organisations have to create an enabling environment to promote family
farms and meet their needs of: technical assistance and policies that
build on their knowledge and bolster sustainable productivity increase;
appropriate technologies; quality inputs that respond to their needs
and respect their culture and traditions; special attention to women
and youth farmers; strengthening of producers’ organisations and cooperatives;
improved access to land and water, credit and markets; and efforts
to improve their participation in value chains.
With best wishes
subscribe to other TWN information services: www.twnnews.net
FAMILY FARMING REVOLUTION
Graziano da Silva
Al-Ahram Weekly, 6 Feb 2014
This year is the International Year of Family Farming, highlighting
the role that family farmers play in eradicating hunger and conserving
natural resources, writes José Graziano da Silva.
Every era has its challenges. And each challenge demands specific
In the 1960s, famine threatened South Asia. New high yielding wheat
and rice varieties responding well to high levels of fertiliser application
and ample water availability significantly boosted food production.
Developed under the leadership of Norman Borlaug, they helped launch
the Green Revolution, credited for saving the lives of hundreds of
millions of people. It was the right answer to the looming food crisis
that the world faced half a century ago.
Today, we are not facing famine – but we are at a crossroads.
Around 842 million people remain chronically hungry because they cannot
afford to eat adequately, despite the fact that the world is no longer
short of food. And as we look towards 2050 we have the additional
challenge of feeding a population that is eating more – and sometimes
better, healthier diets – and which is expected to surpass the nine
At the same time farmers – and humanity as a whole – are already facing
the new challenges posed by climate change. And the degradation of
land and water resources, as well as other negative environmental
impacts, is showing us the limits of highly intensive farming systems.
We need a way forward that has the same novelty as the Green Revolution
but which responds to today’s needs: we cannot use the same tool to
respond to a different challenge.
And so the quest is now on for truly sustainable farming systems that
can meet the world’s future food needs. And nothing comes closer to
the sustainable food production paradigm than family farming.
It is fitting, therefore, that the United Nations has named 2014 the
International Year of Family Farming. It provides an occasion to highlight
the role that family farmers play in eradicating hunger and conserving
natural resources, central elements of the sustainable future we want.
Support for family farming need not and should not be done in opposition
to large-scale, specialised farming, which also plays an important
role to ensure global food supply and which faces its own challenges,
including the adoption of sustainable approaches.
But we have much to learn about sustainable practices from family
farmers, a group that includes smallholders and medium-scale farmers,
peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional communities, fisher folk,
pastoralists, collectors and many others.
Much of the world’s experience in sustainable farming systems has
been gained by family-run farms. From generation to generation, family
farmers have transmitted knowledge and skills, preserving and improving
many practices and technologies that can support agricultural sustainability.
Using innovative techniques such as building terraces and adopting
zero-tillage practices, family farmers have consistently succeeded
in maintaining production on often marginal lands.
The preservation and sustainable use of natural resources is rooted
in the productive logic of family farms and sets them apart from large-scale
specialised farming. The highly diversified nature of their agricultural
activities gives them a central role in promoting environmental sustainability,
safeguarding biodiversity, and contributes to healthier and more balanced
Family farmers also play a pivotal role in the local production, marketing
and consumption circuits that are so important not simply in fighting
hunger but also in creating jobs, generating income, and in stimulating
and diversifying local economies.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 500 million family farms. In an
FAO survey of 93 countries, family farmers account on average for
over 80 per cent of all holdings. In developed and developing countries
alike, they are the main producers of food consumed locally, the primary
stewards of food security.
Experiences in many countries show that family farmers respond well
with increased production if the appropriate policy environment is
effectively put in place. Yet at the same time, over 70 per cent of
the world’s food insecure population lives in rural areas in developing
countries. Many of them are subsistence producers who may not grow
enough to meet their families’ needs. Typically they have access only
to limited and often degraded natural resources and are particularly
vulnerable to external shocks, including those induced by climate
Too frequently in the past, family farmers were considered a problem
to be solved, the target of social policies with only limited potential.
That is the mindset we need to change. Family farmers are not part
of the problem; on the contrary, they are part of the solution for
food security and sustainable development.
But there is a limit to what family farmers can achieve on their own.
Governments, international organisations, regional agencies, civil
society organisations, the private sector and research institutions
have a role to play in providing this support and creating the enabling
environment they need to thrive.
What family farmers need is similar throughout the world: technical
assistance and policies that build on their knowledge and bolster
sustainable productivity increase; appropriate technologies; quality
inputs that respond to their needs and respect their culture and traditions;
special attention to women and youth farmers; strengthening of producers’
organisations and cooperatives; improved access to land and water,
credit and markets; and efforts to improve their participation in
The 2014 International Year of Family Farming gives us a chance to
revitalise this critical sector. By choosing to celebrate family farmers,
we recognise that they must be protagonists in responding to the dual
challenge the world today faces: improving food security while preserving
crucial natural resources.
This is the test of our era. Giving family farmers the attention and
support they deserve, we can rise to meet it.
The writer is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation