Family farms remain vital to agriculture

The world recently focused on 500 million family farmers while observing World Food Day Oct. 16.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has recognized family farmers as central to solving global hunger and malnutrition….

The FAO also reports that family farmers account for an average of 80 percent of all holdings, based on data from 93 countries, and are the main producers of locally consumed food.

“The world cannot do without the family farmer,” says Amy McMillen, FAO’s partnerships and outreach co-ordinator.

“It’s because of the family farmer that we eat a variety of healthy foods every day, and yet family farmers still make up the majority of poor and hungry people in the world. We must do more to incentivize, celebrate and exponentially improve the lives of family farmers to ensure all people have access to fresh, healthy food.”

The face of family farming in North America is dynamic.

A new survey of 75 North American family farmers, led by Humanitas Global in collaboration with the FAO and Food Tank, shows they remain committed to family farming, despite the challenges.

“The survey results and our conversations with farmers reinforce a deep affinity for family farming, but they also show that farmers are torn between a love for the land and trying to make ends meet,” said Nabeeha M. Kazi, president of Humanitas Global and chair of the Community for Zero Hunger.

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Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents who have left the family farm said they remain involved in agriculture in their current careers.

In addition, most of those who have left the family farm said they intend to return in the future.

“We do not want the universe of family farmers to shrink, and we must have policies, programs and resources to enable family farmers to stay on the farm if they desire to do so and perform at their potential,” says Kazi.

“However, we also cannot overlook the power of those who have left the farm. These individuals have tremendous and highly credible voices as we promote and protect the family farm. We should deploy them to inform policy, shape programs and amplify the story of the family farmer in diverse spaces.”

The greatest challenges for family farmers include the cost of land, labour costs, government regulations and policies, climate change and the inherent risk of farming, as well as the disproportionate amount of work required given the financial returns.

“The survey results show that family farmers do not rely on farming alone to pay the bills,” says Kazi.

“Approximately 67 percent of respondents to the survey said that a family member’s income or additional part-time work supplements income from farming.”

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On the positive side, a connection with the land and food systems, independence and working outdoors were all cited as the principle advantages of being a farmer.

Those who grew up and remained on farms, those who left farms to pursue other careers and new family farmers all said that tending to the land and watching food grow were the most fulfilling aspects of being a farmer.

The challenges that family farmers face in North America mirror the challenges seen globally. Climate change, low profitability and better off-farm opportunities all emerge as the greatest global threats.

“Recognizing the external pressures on family farming, many which the global community can help alleviate, is crucial if we are to make family farming viable and desirable for the next generation,” says McMillan.

“FAO celebrates family farmers. We have to be very deliberate and responsive to the needs of the family farmer so they can successfully and profitably do what they love, and that love is feeding and nourishing the world.”

Food Tank is a non-profit organization that advocates for food system changes while promoting environmentally, socially and economically sustainable methods of alleviating hunger and obesity and poverty.

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