Family Farming: The Key to Alleviating Hunger and Poverty

After decades of failed attempts to eradicate hunger, development agencies, international research institutions, non-profit organizations, and the funding and donor communities now see family farmers as key to alleviating global poverty and hunger. Recent estimates show that currently, 1.2 billion people in the world live in extreme poverty, and at least 870 million go to bed hungry every night. As the world gears up for the International Year of Family Farming in 2014, Food Tank: The Food Think Tank and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are highlighting effective ways to provide family farmers the tools they need to really nourish the world.

FAO’s High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) reports that approximately 96 percent of all the agricultural holdings in Africa measure less than ten hectares. FAO Agricultural Census data shows that around 80 percent of agricultural holdings in sub-Saharan Africa and 88 percent of those in developing countries in Asia measure less than 2 hectares.

Family farmers play a crucial role in resolving world hunger, but they’re also those most likely to fall victim to hunger and poverty. An estimated 800 million people living below the global poverty line work in the agricultural sector. In China and India alone there are respectively 189 million and 112 million smallholder farmers with plots measuring less than two hectares.

And yet, smallholder agriculture has great potential to reduce overall national poverty levels. According to a landmark World Bank report, an increase of one percent in agricultural GDP reduces poverty by four times as much as the same percentage increase in non-agricultural GDP.

Food Tank: The Food Think Tank is working with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to highlight the important role that family farmers play in the food system. Over the next two years, the both organizations will work to shine a spotlight on how family farming can enhance soil health, protect water supplies, improve nutrition, and increase incomes. Small-scale, family-run farms not only form the base of rural communities in both the developing and developed world and provide a large number of jobs, but they are also at the center of sustainable production.

“Most of the world’s farmers are smallholder and family farmers. But their knowledge and practices are not getting nearly the research and funding they need. Policymakers and business have focused on quantity over quality and have forgotten the important role family farming can play in improving nutrition,” says Danielle Nierenberg, Food Tank co-founder.

Small-scale farmers can contribute significantly to the transformation of agriculture by managing land and water responsibly, protect water supplies, preserve and enhance biodiversity, and contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation. A large study examining smallholder agriculture by the Department of Biological Sciences and Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex covered 286 projects, over 37 million hectares in 57 developing countries, and found that when sustainable agriculture was adopted, average crop yields increased by 79 percent.

“By working with family farmers to build on their knowledge in the development of sustainable agricultural practices, we can improve resilience in the food system—including resilience to climate change, food price shocks, conflict, and natural disasters,” says Barbara Gemmill-Herren, Programme Officer at FAO.

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