Family farming an alternative response to the crisis

The UN has proclaimed 2014 as the ‘International Year of Family Farming’ (IYFF) to highlight its ability to counter hunger and poverty and to preserve the environment and biodiversity. This year bears homage to the more than 3,000 million male and female family farmers, including fishermen, stock raisers, indigenous workers and peasants with no land to call their own. Between them, they produce over 70% of the food destined for human consumption. The IYFF also echoes the call of these farmers for a just price for their produce.


Family farming (FF) has a social function; it gives work, generates a sense of well-being, gives stability to people in rural areas and conserves cultural and historic values. It creates income and the growth in GDP that it generates is twice as good at reducing poverty as those of other production sectors. FF also brings benefits to town-dwellers as the food is grown nearby. It protects biodiversity and, unlike industrial farming, preserves crop and stock diversity by using indigenous seeds and breeds. Family Farming also assures food security, food sovereignty and food quality. Women are about 50% of the FF workforce in developing countries (43% according to FAO and 60-80% according to UNIFEM).


The neglect suffered by FF, the lack of political, economic and social support and negative propaganda mean that we often associate family farmers with traditional agricultural models and little ability to adapt. The truth is that for centuries the farmers have produced healthy crops and preserved biodiversity. Several studies, including the IAASTD report[1], recognise that small farms are often more productive and sustainable per unit of land and energy consumed than conventional industrial farming.


There is a new movement that sees FF as an alternative response to the current crises. This vision - which is emerging from grassroots contact with the earth that gives us life and healthy food - can become the new paradigm for humanity. Faced as we are with a food crisis where 842 million people do not have enough to eat, this type of farming is better equipped to fight hunger, provided it is supported and protected. As for the environmental crisis that threatens to destroy humanity and the Earth, family farmers respect and manage the environment and conserve biodiversity for future generations. Faced with the unemployment crisis, FF is able to absorb the labour force, as was seen in the past during the industrial crisis and is seen now in the current economic crisis. In the face of the energy crisis, family farming uses less pesticide, herbicide or fertilizer than petroleum-based industrial agriculture.


However, family farming has to fight off numerous external enemies these days. The most dangerous are the interests of industrial agriculture and land-grabbing. The 2008 prices crisis steered investors towards land for the production of food or agrofuels. Countries that do not have enough water or arable land to meet their own food needs, along with other investors and businesses, are buying up land in developing countries to produce crops or fuel for export. This land acquisition is driving many farmers from the land they have inherited from their ancestors. Losing access to land and water amounts to losing their livelihood, so they are forced to migrate towards the towns in search of work which more often than not does not exist.


FF is about the local economy where there is no ambition to export or flood other markets. Its aim is a dignified life without the need to leave the traditional homeland. FF has its own values that have been learned from contact with nature and that deserve humanity’s respect.


We Christians are called to live in solidarity. Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium (§211) that God calls out to everyone: “Where is your brother?” (Gen. 4:9). “Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved?Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine factories, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour. Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone![2]” He could add: “Where is the brother and sister you are killing every day with your investments in pension funds that speculate on land and farm produce, indifferent to those dying of hunger while you pay ridiculous prices for this produce?”  Our wish in this International Year of Family Farming is that family farms receive the support they need to develop and so contribute to a better life for all, and also for the Planet.



Begoña Iñarra

Executive Secretary

[1] The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report was published in 2008 with the help of 400 experts, 30 governments, 30 groups of producers, some consumer groups and international organisations. It is the only study that deals with production and productivity as well as the multi-functionality of farming. At the same time, it evaluates the science, technology and local, traditional knowledge involved.





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