“2014: International Year of Family Farming”: Gimmick or precedent to change current production models?

Last November, The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. While many leaders and institutions strove for 12 months to put family farming at the forefront of agricultural policies and and to increase public awareness through events around the world, many environmental activists and international solidarity organizations are skeptical about the real added value of this temporary spotlight. So is it a gimmick or a precedent to change current production models? Here is a look at one of the key SOLIDARITÉ themes currently prey to many threats...


Family farming is not a new developmentalist trend or the whim of a few pre-modern nostalgics: it is an economic, social, and environmental necessity.


First of all, what is family farming?


As its name implies, family farming is based on the family being the holder of the land and the producer, in order to ensure food sovereignty and to supply the local market. Although the foundation is the same, its expression takes on very different realities, from the large farm of hundreds of acres as we know it in France, to small subsistence plots in Africa, through the peasants seeking land in India.



Today, family farming is suffering from a lack of legitimacy in the eyes of policymakers, and even the public, as it is considered outdated and of low economic efficiency. In fact, who has never heard  that it is not with “small” under-mechanized and low productivity agriculture that we will feed the planet? Furthermore, public development aid has gradually been diverted from agriculture in the last decades: it now represents only 2% of funds allocated to countries of the South, as compared to 16% in 1980, and very few of the agricultural sector subsidies benefit family farming.


Not only is this basic premise completely false (it is entirely possible to feed the world with family farming), but the direction we are taking seems dangerous and is leading us to a dead-end. In fact, today more than ever, it is necessary to invest in family farming in order to reduce poverty, inequality, and environmental imbalances.


Explanation of the virtues of an unfamiliar model


Family farming is firstly based on a large workforce able to develop the land: it creates employment and generates income. Moreover, as it is firmly grounded in its territory and uses environmentally respectful methods, family farming contributes to the dynamism of rural areas, to the sound management of resources, and to agricultural biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. Finally, beyond the unfair nature of the financial markets and food commodity speculation, it resists volatility and contributes to food security in developing countries.


According to the latest FAO State of Food and Agriculture report, countries with strong  agricultural public spending orientation have low malnutrition rates, and conversely, countries with low public investment in agriculture have high rates of malnutrition. Thus, the verdict is clear: As we face strong demographic growth and rising global food demand, family farming is the only remedy against food insecurity and deadly famines.


If this is the case, why are the countries in the Sahel region, which are still characterized by a significant number of small family farms, also the most affected by malnutrition? This is because food insecurity issues are not linked to production shortfalls, but to income issues, to the choice of crop systems, and to food access, all of which heavily depend on policies in the areas of access to land, trade, and product subsidies. This set of measures must accompany family farming in order for it to fulfill its nourishment role.


Family farming cannot be successful without a radical change in both national and international policies on trade, access to land, and regulation.


CAP et WTO; when agricultural trade liberalization slowly kills family farms


We often forget certain parameters in the management policies of a family farm. Let’s take the example of some West African crops. Access to land and markets are sometimes guaranteed for families of producers, but production falls solely within the framework of certain export sectors (coffee, cocoa, cotton, bananas), thus limiting the possibility of food sovereignty and directly threatening family income when s collapse on the international market.


It takes no more than one shock, for example a collapse of s, or a change in consumption patterns or European policies, for producers to lose their only source of income, and be plunged into poverty, especially since the devastating effects of chemically-intensive monocultures on soil fertility have been recognized. There are abundant examples illustrating the failure of the current model.


If family farms hold, as we have seen, immense potential to meet the challenges of food security, social equity and biodiversity protection, in order to harness this potential, it is essential for states to define and apply agricultural and economic policies that are radically different from those currently in place, primarily the rules of international trade.


Popular uprisings should impose the advent of a new system


Under the aegis of the WTO, which will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary, the priority has so far been given to import/export at the expense of local trade and family farming[1]. As a direct consequence of this, between 2003 and 2010, the EU lost 20% of its agricultural holdings, most of which were family farms. In the context of agricultural products trade liberalization and of the concentration of production on large farms in the North and the South, the share of imported food has increased and the volatility of food s affects urban and rural populations every day. In many southern countries, we have seen food riots erupt in recent years,  true signs people’s desperation, who no longer have access to basic food commodities, due to an uncontrollable rise in s.


In addition, institutions and citizens should seize the opportunity of the International Year of Family Farming to challenge the set of rules that have ed create an unfair system and to fight against the growing land grabbing issue. Otherwise, it may be the farmers and not malnutrition that will disappear.


SOLIDARITÉ and family farming: action on all the links in the chain


SOLIDARITÉ’s projects aim to act on all aspects of family farming mentioned above.


First of all, access to land.


SOLIDARITÉ strives to bring to light and combat the glaring inequalities with regards to access to land by supporting the Ekta Parishad organization in its fight for the redistribution of land in India, particularly through peaceful marches, by participating in the class action against land grabbing, and by regularly organizing awareness-raising events on the theme of land rights.


Secondly, give farmers the means to produce locally.


The fight seems futile if one has land without any access to traditional seeds nor alternative methodologies to the current productionist model. SOLIDARITÉ supports its partners in the distribution of natural crop inputs and by providing training in organic farming. Led by Navdanya in the north-east of India, the "Seeds of Hope" projects aims to improve the sustainable livelihoods of small farming communities through the preservation of traditional seeds. In southern India, the Bio-schools project allows students to create gardens, which allow them to better understand the importance of a healthy diet.


Create opportunities for local food crops


Aside from the support it provides to its partners to return to more nourishing and environmentally respectful subsistence crops, SOLIDARITÉ s them consider alternatives to the processing and marketing of local agricultural products. The project to valorize local grains in Senegal was established with this in mind. The goal of the project is to replace wheat with local grains in the production of bread and cakes (a 30-50% substitution rate is possible using our specific methods), which provides prospects for the production of local farmers’ grains.


Raise awareness among policy makers and the general public about the need to save family farming


Through its involvement in awareness-raising groups and campaigns alongside its partners in the North and South and the organization of “themed apéritifs” or other conferences/debates, SOLDARITÉ is conscious that an overall change in the agricultural model will not occur without adequate awareness-raising resulting in an overturn in attitudes. Thanks to the support of its volunteer experts, the organization is constantly strengthening its advocacy activities surrounding access to land, agricultural and trade policies, and the spread of community and organic production systems. With this in mind, the organization is involved with the CAP 2013 group supporting a new European agricultural policy that would preserve the agricultural economy in the countries of the south.


The work that SOLIDARITÉ does, along with thousands of other civil society organizations involved in family farming, reflects the growing gap between the awareness of the necessary paradigm shift and current policies, still locked in the shackles of a model that has proven ineffective to solve the world’s food problems.


The International Year of Family Farming could be the opportunity to reverse this trend. Let’s seize it!


To know more about projects at SOLIDARITÉ, click here!

To support our priority projects, click here!


Justine, volunteer with SOLIDARITÉ

Translated into English by Dagmara Bojenko

[1]    Note by the organization: Although India’s acceptance to create a food safety stock at the last conference in Bali has opened opportunities, this would represent a breach for DCs to change the international rules in this regard.