2014: Year of the Family Farmer

Hear ye! Hear ye! 2014 is the Year of the Family Farmer. Raise your glasses in celebration, and offer a toast to the everyday farmers, nurturing the food stuffs that nourish all of us.

Family farming, you say? Isn’t that just a relic, a simple nostalgia of bygone days?

For at least the last half century, we’ve heard the mantra that bigger is better when it comes to our farms. If we scale up and institutionalize, we can liberate ourselves from the land and hand over the pesky business of growing food to corporations with profits to maximize and innovations to innovate. But we have found so much to be lacking in this new food system that we are experiencing a backlash, a resurgence of food growers and producers and entrepreneurs.

In less developed countries around the world the advice for so long has been that agriculture is inextricably linked to poverty;that the way to transcend the poverty trap is to leave behind the business of subsistence agriculture for the promise of manufacturing, and eventually for a transition to knowledge-based economies. As though we will all one day be able to stop producing food, and then goods, so that eventually our only products will be knowledge.

But in this promise, we have again found so much to be lacking. As people increasingly move from rural areas to urban ones, job opportunities have not kept pace, leading to a rise in unemployment and urban slums. We also know that up to 80% of people in developing countries are still engaged in food production. Perhaps most importantly, we know that small farms are more productive than large ones, despite popular conceptions to the contrary.

We tend to believe that large farms are more productive than small ones, but the data tells a different story. According to data analysis by the Institute for Food and Development Policy, “For every country for which data is available, smaller farms are anywhere from 200 to 1,000 percent more productive per unit area.” And they are without a doubt more diverse: economically and ecologically.

In declaring 2014 the Year of the Family Farm, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is recognizing what we know and using it to challenge the prevailing claims. According to their website:

Families share everything. They share their living space and their mealtimes. They share their aspirations, dreams, successes and failures. Throughout the developed and developing world, farming families reap the benefits of sharing the workload too.
In fact, with over 500 million family farms in the world, this is the predominant form of agriculture, and it is inextricably linked to world food security.

Yet more than 70% of the food insecure population is made up of family farmers in rural areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Near East. They cannot reach their full production potential because they lack the access to natural resources, credit, policies and technologies they need.  

Check out http://www.fao.org/family-farming-2014/en/ for more info.