2014: the International Year of Family Farming

The United Nations nominated 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF). The aim was to raise the profile of family and smallholder farming and the contribution it makes to eradicate hunger, reduce rural poverty, achieve food security, improve livelihoods, manage natural resources, and to achieve sustainable development in rural areas.

This family in the Mecati Forest, Mozambique, cut down trees and cleared the land on this hillside to grow a crop of cowpeas. They will use this land for two more years, use the cut timber for firewood, and them move on (Photo: Mike Goldwater)

According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), family farming includes all family-based agricultural activities (including agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production) that are managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour. Both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector.

What future for family farming?

With more than 500 million family farms farming around 56 per cent of the world's agricultural lands, it is not surprising that family farms are highly diverse. They range from smallholdings providing ecosystem services in mountain areas to large farms with high degrees of mechanisation and specialisation in parts of Europe and North America.

The sustainability of family farms depends on a range of factors, including markets for farm inputs and outputs, land-use legislation, population pressures and other economic, social and cultural factors. In IIED, we agree with the need to build frameworks, institutions and policies supporting family farmers, but we also believe that it is imperative to unpack the diversity hidden in the term 'family farming'. This includes carefully assessing what development trajectories different types of family farms can and want to take, at a time when the demand for sustainably produced food is increasing worldwide. 

IIED's work on family farming

IIED's work on family and smallholder farming cuts across many of the issues highlighted above, and focuses in particular on poor farmers in the South.

From our work on building greater local control and resilience into agricultural and food systems to our projects that support locally-controlled forest enterprises, we understand the strategic role of family farmers in achieving sustainable development. We are partners in the Forest and Farm Facility, set up to support smallholder producer organisations to ensure the development of sustainable forest landscapes. Through our project on Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR) we work with indigenous and smallholder farmers in China, India, Kenya and Peru to revitalise traditional knowledge-based — or 'biocultural heritage'-based — innovation systems in order to strengthen food security in the face of climate change.

Our legal tools team works with practitioners who are developing innovative approaches to legal empowerment to find solutions txo secure land and resource rights. In the drylands of northern Kenya, we are supporting devolved county governments to secure community rights over land and land based resources.

Afghan farmers and extension workers assess an okra field in Balkh Province, Northern Afghanistan (Photo: Barbara Adoph)

Smallholder and family farms play a key role in urban as well as rural markets, and our work on Regoverning Markets looked at the modernisation of agrifood markets in emerging economies, and the implications for small-scale producers. We have undertaken research on the strategies and constraints of small producer agency in the globalised market and we began exploring the energy needs of smallholder agriculture to help enable producers to diversify, add value and reduce drudgery in agricultural operations.

Through our work with the Global Water Initiative we undertake research and advocacy in West Africa to ensure that family farmers — both men and women — are placed at the centre of effective water management and food security policies with the aim of ensuring sustainable and secure livelihoods.

More information: The International Year of Family Farming website and Twitter feed.