According to the United Nations (UN), nine of ten of the world’s 570 million farms are managed by families, which makes family farms a crucial agent of change in achieving sustainable food security and eradicating hunger.
In the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation’s (FAO) new State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2014 report, family farms are the custodians of around 75 per cent of all agricultural resources in the world, and are key to improving ecological and resource sustainability.
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However, they are also among the most vulnerable to the effects of resource depletion and climate change.
Also, while large pieces of land managed by family farmers show impressive yields, smaller farms struggle to produce enough to provide for their families.
As a result of this, FAO director-general, José Graziano da Silva, has suggested that family farmers innovate in order to address the challenges of meeting the world’s food security needs, environmental sustainability and securing their own productive capacity and growth.
“In all cases, family farmers need to be protagonists of innovation as only this way can they take ownership of the process and ensure that the solutions offered respond to their needs. Family farming is a key component of the healthy food systems we need to lead healthier lives,” he said.
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The SOFA report also calls on all institutions and actors that work with farmers to support and promote the use of innovative agricultural systems.
This could be done by creating incentives for farmers, researchers, advisory service providers and integrated value chains to strengthen relations and to share information with one another.
“Policy makers must also consider the diversity of family farms in terms of size, technologies used, and integration into markets, as well as their ecological and socio-economic settings,” the report said.
“This diversity means that farmers need different things from an innovation system. Still, all farms need better governance, macroeconomic stability, physical and institutional market infrastructure, education as well as basic agricultural research.”
While agricultural research by private companies is increasing, public-sector investment remains crucial to ensure that areas of little interest to the private sector, such as basic research and sustainable production capacities, are still covered.
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“Policies meant to catalyze innovation will need to go beyond technology transfer. They must also be inclusive and tailored to local contexts, so that farmers have ownership of innovation, and take gender and intergenerational issues into consideration, involving [the] youth in the future of the agricultural sector.”