16.07.2013

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The United Nations has declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. Rightly so, says Eve Crowley, Principal Advisor for Gender, Equity and Rural Employment at the FAO, for family farmers play a key role in numerous areas of rural life. But this does not mean that they have a positive impact per se; support addressing them needs to be considered very thoroughly.

Family farming is one of the most predominant forms of agriculture world-wide, both in developing and in developed countries. The sector comprises a wide spectrum of farm sizes and types, ranging from very large land holdings in high-income economies that are easily cultivated by one or two family members with the use of labour-saving machinery and hired labour to the small holdings of a few hectares or less in low-income economies. The latter are often oriented towards subsistence with low marketable surplus. These small family farms, run by small producers are by far, the most numerous: globally, there are approximately 500 million small family farms, 280 million of which are in China and India alone (IFPRI, 2007). Thus, although family farmers and small producers are not identical groups, they share much common ground and hence face a series of similar issues.

Here, family farming is defined as a means of organising agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on non-wage family labour, including both women’s and men’s. Indeed, family farmers produce most of the food consumed in developing countries, and use over 80 per cent of the land in Asia and Africa. Despite its prevalence, the central role that family farming plays in food security is not often discussed. While it is not the premise of this article to advocate for family farming as an alternative to commercial farming, or to shy away from acknowledging its links with poverty, it should be said that family farming can be a viable form of agriculture, provided that certain conditions are present. However, it does not take too much to realise that these conditions are in fact generally lacking, and this has triggered an important debate on the future of family farming, which will culminate in the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) 2014, an initiative launched by the World Rural Forum (WRF) in collaboration with the government of the Philippines, facilitated by the FAO and endorsed by the UN General Assembly.

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