Trevor Nicholls, CABI (left) and Martin Kropff, CIMMYT (right).


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This year opens the Decade of Family Farming, which aims to improve the life of family farmers around the world. In an earnest discussion, two leaders in the global agriculture community reflect on the challenges facing family farmers, the promises of high- and low-tech solutions, and their hopes for the future. A conversation between Martin Kropff, Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), and Trevor Nicholls, CEO of the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI)…

…on the unique challenges facing family farms

Trevor Nicholls: Family farmers come in many shapes and sizes, but for me, the word ‘family farmer’ bring a focus on smallholders and people who are starting on a journey of making a farming business. It depends on which part of the world you’re talking about; a family farm in the UK is perhaps very different to a small family farm in Ethiopia. And family farms can grow from just a small plot to being quite large commercial enterprises.

Martin Kropff: All agriculture started with family farms. Fifty years ago in my home country, the Netherlands, almost all farms were family farms. When we look globally, farms in places like India, Pakistan, and Kenya are very often small, and the whole family is involved.

When the whole family is involved, gender dynamics come out. In a way, family farming is very often the farming done by women. This makes women the most important players in agriculture in many developing countries. It’s crucial to recognise this and understand their decision-making. For example, our research shows that men and women value different traits in crop varieties. We need to understand this to have successful interventions.

Nicholls: We’ve seen something similar through our Plantwise plant clinics, where farmers come for practical plant health advice.

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