16 October 2014

34th World Food Day: Feeding the world, caring for the earth through family farming

The theme of the 34th World Food Day is: ‘‘Family Farming: feeding the world, caring for the earth’’.  The objective of this day is to focus attention of a wide public on the central role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty and sustainable management of natural resources. This theme is quite timely as 2014 is the International year of family farming the objective of which is to reposition family farming at the centre of national agricultural, environmental and social policies.  

But, as we come close to the end of the International Year of Family Farming, we have to admit that the future is rather bleak for the 513 million family farms that secure a living for more than 3 billion people throughout the world, if governments do not really decide to take forceful measures to facilitate their development.

It is family farms that produce the great majority of our food (around 75% - 80% in Asia) and they constitute the main reserve of agricultural biodiversity which is under increasing threats (75% of the genetic diversity of crops has been lost because of the replacement of local by high-yielding varieties, and six animal races are lost on average every month!).

Family farming has too often been presented as a failure, while the economic slump in which this type of agriculture is can be explained by the neglect and exclusion it has suffered from government services and support [read more on exclusion]. As a consequence, particularly since the middle of the first decade of this century and the food crisis, dominant thinking has been that the future of agriculture and of world food supply must be put in the hands of private investors and large-scale industrial agriculture. The latter is however quite inefficient (energy-greedy, depending on mechanisation, fertiliser and agrochemicals produced from fossil energy) and creates very limited employment. It destroys and pollutes the environment, threatens biodiversity, inflicts unnecessary suffering to animals, produced food that is often contaminated and is a risk for the health of consumers, and emits large quantities of green house gasses that contribute to climate change.

The thrust towards a large-scale agriculture has given birth to alliances to which large food and agrochemical multinationals are strongly associated. Examples are the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and the Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture the latter having been created less than a month ago. This thrust also results in a violent attack against land that seeks to grab the land cultivated by family farms to hand it over to large companies that, almost everywhere in the world, are booming [read on the land issue, page 4 and the following].

This movement will encourage, if nothing is done to control it, massive rural-urban migration that will accelerate further urban population growth, leading to larger numbers of  vulnerable and chronically undernourished people. In India, for example, in the middle of the first decade of this century, more than 16% of the urban population was in a situation of chronic undernourishment, and this proportion was growing. If we project the Indian situation to year 2050, when India will have reached an urban population of more than 800 million people, there would be almost 200 million of urban dwellers - and may be more - who would be hungry. In Africa, by the same date projections estimate that there will be 1.5 billion people living in urban areas, may of whom will also be unable to have access to adequate food.

It seems therefore indispensable to do all that is required to support the development of family farming, to reduce rural-urban migrations, but also to produce healthier food while preserving natural resources.

This is a challenge that has yet to be met as we get nearer to the end of the International Year of Family Farming.


To know more

  1. -Visit the FAO website on the World Food Day


Last update:    October 2014

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