17 October 2014

We must turn the page of the Green Revolution and find new solutions to the problems of food and agriculture today.

‘‘Family farms are part of the solution for achieving food security and sustainable rural development’’, says the 2014 report on The State of Food and Agriculture published by FAO on the World Food Day. But the report makes it quite clear that for family farms to play their full role, it will be essential to take into consideration the great diversity of situations found throughout the world. There is no panacea today, as in the past the Green Revolution. We have to turn the page on these times and look for innovative solutions adapted to today’s diversity of local ecological, social and economic conditions.

The key messages of the report emphasise the need for:

  1. Increasing public investment in agricultural research and development, and extension and advisory services, and refocusing them to emphasise sustainable intensification and close the yield and labour productivity gaps among different categories of producers

  2. Promoting the capacity to innovate in family farming at multiple levels while taking into account the heterogeneity of family farms and the importance of local specificities

  3. Supporting effective and inclusive producer organisations

  4. Ensuring an enabling environment for innovation, including good governance, stable macroeconomic conditions, transparent legal and regulatory regimes, secure property rights, risk management tools and market infrastructure.

The foreword of the report, signed by the Director-General of FAO, clearly repositions family farms at the centre of agricultural development and criticises those who identified family farming as an obstacle to development and proposed to give ‘carte blanche’ to private investors to feed the world. By suggesting to turn the page on the Green Revolution which rested on irrigation, the use of high-yielding seeds and agrochemicals and which was the panacea put forward to avoid famine 40 years ago, the FAO is proposing to mark a clear break with the past. It is true that the Green Revolution has been the source of an unprecedented increase in agricultural production and of huge profits for the giant agrochemical multinationals, but it also had a environmental and social cost that is still difficult to measure today.

The FAO acknowledges that small farmers, besides having an essential role in food and agricultural production, also have a central part to play in the diversification and development of the rural economy as a whole, and argues for more attention and support from governments. This attention must enable producers to innovate and be better equipped to face the challenges of the future, in particularly that of feeding a growing and increasingly urban population in a changing world where natural conditions - including the climate - are undergoing drastic modifications.

At times, the report remains unclear on what is actually meant by ‘innovation’: does it simply entail adopting technologies that have proven successful in rich countries - where yields are higher - or does it mean to develop new technologies, better adapted to the diverse conditions of poor countries and small family farms? Those of you who are used to read know by now that we tend to prefer the second option which consists in developing new technologies more productive, environment-friendly and accessible to cash-deprived farmers. [read] Such technologies already exist such as the System of rice intensification (SRI), push-pull, agroforestry and many other agroecological approaches. But many more will yet have to be invented in the future that will be adapted to the diversity of conditions mentioned in the FAO report. There will also be a need, a point that FAO still does not want to admit clearly - but for how long? -  to develop technologies that will not rely on the use of expensive agrochemicals but rather on the use of what producers have, namely intelligence, knowledge and labour. To ease the adoption of such innovations, there should be no hesitation to implement economic and social protection measures - in particular to secure access to food  - in order to facilitate the transition to this new agriculture that so many of us are hoping to see.

As usual, while it recognises the importance of organising producers in associations, groups or cooperatives for economic reasons, FAO shies away from acknowledging that these organisations must also play a political role and develop their political clout so as to be able to influence sustainably government policies. This is probably a position adopted by FAO so as not to antagonise some of its influential member countries who do not have small farmers or democracy among their priorities.


To know more:

  1. -FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2014 In Brief - Innovation in family farming, October 2014

  2. -FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture - Innovation in family farming, October 2014

  3., Seven principles for ending hunger sustainably, October 2013


Last update:    October 2014

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