Family farming for feeding the world: What is needed to unleash the potential of small-scale food production?

Luca Miggiano
Friday, April 5, 2013

With 925 million people experiencing hunger in the world and at least another billion suffering from inadequate diets, it is hard not to agree that food is the ultimate security challenge of our times. The simple fact that another billion people substantially over-consume and waste  enormous quantities of food describes a global system that is at best severely unequal and unbalanced.

This picture is also moving fast. We know that the demand for food is rapidly growing due to a swelling global population and shifts in per capita consumption in emerging economies. Consequently, part of the challenge is to produce more, but also in a more sustainable way. We know in fact that this demand contributes additional pressure on both the earth's resources and its tenure systems.

Crucially, agricultural production and related food prices, are influenced by international trade regimes and national policies, often to the benefit of more consolidated players, like multinational companies and industrial-scale farming systems, making it difficult for small-scale food producers to make a living from local markets and shape local food systems, which also negatively impacts food quality and diversity.

The question is therefore who will feed the world in 2030? How can this happen in a sustainable way?

The Centre for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (CARRD) is a Member of the International Land Coalition (ILC) that works to answer these questions on the ground in the Philippines. CARRD supports smallholder farmers who gained ownership of their land through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program by improving the productivity of their fields. This is being done through investments in organic sugar production and farmers' cooperatives, as well as measures to reduce dependency on big sugar mill companies and promote access to credit and markets.

This and many other similar experiences from a great variety of actors represented in ILC’s membership informs us about the role that land-concerned organisations play in the food debate. First, it reaffirms that supporting smallholder farmers and helping them to access and compete in the markets on equal footing is key to ending hunger, if only because 75% of hungry people live in rural areas, and many of them are smallholder farmers. Moreover, it underlines the notion that a prerequisite of any strategy to achieve global food security must include secure and equitable access to land for the rural poor.

These ideas are backed by a growing international consensus, culminated in the recently endorsed Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure, which devote extensive attention to smallholder-sensitive investments. We now need to better articulate this vision and focus on how to best support small-scale food producers and how to align current broader policies, practices and interests to this objective. Substantial contributions to this debate have been made recently by IGOs, researchers, movements, and, above all, farmers organisations.

The UN General Assembly declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming, and the campaign led by the World Rural Forum is giving incredible momentum to these issues. Organisations concerned about land have a lot to share in this regard (See recent studies from Ecuador and Bolivia).

ILC members and partners will take a deeper look at these issues at the upcoming Global Land Forum in Guatemala, 23-27 April, in a session on the future of family farming and the geo-political economy of food. I invite you to follow the event on twitter and via webcast, where you will be joining the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), IFAD, the World Rural Forum, CARRD and the Union de Mujeres Campesinas de Honduras, and more than 300 participants, in a discussion on the concrete steps that need to be taken for enabling family farmers to play a central role in meeting the food security challenge of the coming decades.

Luca Miggiano
Women's Land Rights and Global Policy