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Re: Family Farming Crucial in Fight Against Hunger

The article below was published in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 7896, 17 October 2014.

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Family farming crucial in fight against hunger

Geneva, 16 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Ms Hilal Elver, has stressed on the importance of family farming as being a crucial element in the global fight against hunger.

In a UN news release on the occasion of World Food Day on Thursday, the rights expert called on Governments to protect the rights of family and small-holder farmers working worldwide.

World Food Day this year is focusing attention on the issue of family farming, with the theme 'Feeding the world, caring for the earth'.

Meanwhile, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released its State of Food and Agriculture 2014 report on Wednesday, in which it underlined that the family farm is a potentially crucial agent of change in achieving sustainable food security and in eradicating hunger in the future.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur, family farming is a crucial element in the global fight against hunger, and key to the protection and sustainability of natural resources.

"With over 70% of the world's food production reliant on family farmers, this type of farming represents the vast majority of agriculture worldwide, both in developed and developing countries," said Ms Elver.

"Most of these farmers own less than two hectares of land, and cultivate only a small share of the world's farmland. Protecting their rights is paramount to the eradication of hunger and ensuring food security and adequate nutrition," she added.

The rights expert noted that there are an estimated 500 million family farms worldwide, many of which currently face increasing challenges that are undermining agricultural production, including soil erosion, increased water scarcity, deforestation, climate change, globalisation of the food sector and an ever expanding monoculture for export, and large corporations.

"Family farming is based on tradition, and forms the social fabric of many societies playing a key role in protecting the world's biodiversity and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources," Ms Elver underlined.

She noted that women, who account for some 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, play a crucial role in enhancing food security and nutrition in the household as well as increasing agricultural output.

She stressed that every effort must be made to ensure that they are afforded the same rights and access to necessary resources as their male counterparts.

"On the occasion of World Food Day, I urge all States to show a more meaningful commitment to the development of social and economic policies specifically targeted at smallholder and family farms."

The Special Rapporteur called on all Governments "to do everything in their power to ensure that the rights of family and small holder farmers working worldwide to eradicate hunger and sustain natural resources are protected."

According to an FAO press release on its State of Food and Agriculture report, family farms are the custodians of about 75 percent of all agricultural resources in the world, and are therefore key to improved ecological and resource sustainability.

They are also among the most vulnerable to the effects of resource depletion and climate change. While evidence shows impressive yields on land managed by family farmers, many smaller farms are unable to produce enough to provide decent livelihoods for the families.

FAO said that family farming thus faces a triple challenge: yield growth to meet the world's need for food security and better nutrition; environmental sustainability to protect the planet and to secure their own productive capacity; and productivity growth and livelihood diversification to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.

The FAO report argues that family farms must be supported to innovate in ways that promote sustainable intensification of production and improvements in rural livelihoods. Innovation is a process through which farmers improve their production and farm management practices.

This may involve planting new crop varieties, combining traditional practices with new scientific knowledge, applying new integrated production and post-harvest practices or engaging with markets in new, more rewarding ways.

But innovation requires more than action by farmers alone, says the report, adding that the public sector - working with the private sector, civil society and farmers and their organizations - must create an innovation system that links these various actors, fosters the capacity of farmers and provides incentives for them to innovate.

According to the report, more than 500 million family farms manage the majority of the world's agricultural land and produce most of the world's food. More than 90 percent of farms are run by an individual or a family and rely primarily on family labour.

Family farms are by far the most prevalent form of agriculture in the world. Estimates suggest that they occupy around 70-80 percent of farm land and produce more than 80 percent of the world's food in value terms.

The FAO report noted that the vast majority of the world's farms are small or very small, and in many lower- income countries farm sizes are becoming even smaller. Worldwide, farms of less than 1 hectare account for 72 percent of all farms but control only 8 percent of all agricultural land.

Slightly larger farms between 1 and 2 hectares account for 12 percent of all farms and control 4 percent of the land, while farms in the range of 2 to 5 hectares account for 10 percent of all farms and control 7 percent of the land.

In contrast, only 1 percent of all farms in the world are larger than 50 hectares, but these few farms control 65 percent of the world's agricultural land.

According to the FAO, in many high-income and upper-middle-income countries, large farms, responsible for most agricultural production, account for most farm land, but in most low- and lower-middle-income countries, small and medium-sized farms occupy most farm land and produce most of the food.

Small farms produce a higher share of the world's food relative to the share of land they use, as they tend to have higher yields than larger farms within the same countries and agro-ecological settings, it added.

"The highly skewed pattern of farm sizes at the global level largely reflects the dominance of very large farms in high-income and upper-middle-income countries and in countries where extensive livestock grazing is a dominant part of the agricultural system," said the report.

In a foreword to the report, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said that about 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.

"In a disconcerting paradox, more than 70 percent of the world's food-insecure people live in rural areas in developing countries. Many of them are low-paid farm labourers or subsistence producers who may have difficulty in meeting their families' food needs," he said.

"As we look towards 2050, we have the additional challenge of feeding a population that is eating more - and sometimes better and healthier diets - and that is expected to surpass the 9 billion mark. At the same time, farmers, and humanity as a whole, are already facing the new challenges posed by climate change," he added.

"Hence, the quest is now to find farming systems that are truly sustainable and inclusive and that support increased access for the poor so that we can meet the world's future food needs. Nothing comes closer to the sustainable food production paradigm than family farming," he further said.

While family farmers are key to food security worldwide, they have also been considered by many as an obstacle to development and have been deprived of government support, he said.

"That is the mindset we need to change. Family farmers are not part of the problem: on the contrary, they are vital to the solution of the hunger problem," Da Silva stressed in the foreword to the FAO report. +