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Family farming: The paradox of our time

Nov 5, 2014, 10:59 AM

It arouses even our sub-consciousness reading the 2014 World Food (FAO) Statement which focuses on ‘Family farming: nourishing the world’ as its theme for the year.What challenges us the most is the plight of family farmers, who, while they provide the food that the world consumes to live healthily, they themselves are caged within the yard of those considered to be food-insecure; simple put, not having enough food to eat.

That is not the only problem; they also lack the wherewithal to lead a decent life as well as to give their children better education.

According to FAO’s annual State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report on family farming, “Around 500 million of the world’s 570 million farms are run by families. They are the main caretakers of our natural resources. As a sector, they form the world’s largest employer, supply more than 80 per cent of the world’s food in terms of value, and are often the main producers of fresh food and prosper in dairy, poultry and pig production.”

The reports also states: “In The Gambia over 90 per cent of farms are run by families, they provide 60% of the food for the family, care and protect our natural resources.

“Yet many family farmers, especially subsistence producers, are part of the 70 per cent of the world’s food-insecure population who live in rural areas.”

These astonishing facts make us feel family farmers are a paradox which illustrates and highlights the lack of support and consideration this sector of our world receives.

That is why the FAO continues to appeal to the conscience of governments, producers’ organizations and research institutions to innovate and support family farming.

The FAO says governments need to innovate in the specific policies they implement to support family farming; producers’ organizations need to innovate to respond better to the needs of family farmers; and research and extension institutions need to innovate by shifting from a research-driven process predominantly based on technology transfer, to an approach that enables and rewards innovation by family farmers themselves.

As FAO rightly states, “in all its forms, innovation needs to be inclusive, involving family farmers in the generation, sharing and use of knowledge  so that they have ownership  of the process, taking on board both  the benefits and the risks, and making sure  that it truly responds to local contexts.”

Finance, policy and treating family farmers and, by extension, smallholders as businesses are key to sustainable agricultural growth in Africa.

As much as $450 billion could be needed to finance market-oriented smallholder farming, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa says.

Family farmers and smallholders are often struggling to make their voices heard in the corridors of power on the continent with policy often made on their behalf by organizations and governments.

It is very essential therefore that we support family farming and take it to higher level; it forms the world’s largest employer and supplies more than 80 per cent of the world’s food in terms of value.

“My family was a poor farming family, and we lived under absolute segregation.”

Alice Walker