Modern food systems to emerge in new decade of family farming

Global farmers affirmed the vital relevance of small-holders at the World Rural Forum in Bilbao, Spain recently, highlighting how through innovative approaches they will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals over the next ten years.

Duncan Macqueen's picture
Insight by 
Duncan Macqueen
Duncan Macqueen, principal researcher, Natural Resources research group
04 April 2019
Bolivian family farming organisations show a poster about their award-winning coffee business development activity at the World Rural Forum in Bilbao, Spain (Photo: Duncan Macqueen/IIED)

Bolivian family farming organisations show a poster about their award-winning coffee business development activity at the World Rural Forum in Bilbao, Spain (Photo: Duncan Macqueen/IIED)

More than 80 representatives of family farming organisations came to Bilbao in Spain to be part of the launch of the Decade of Family Farming at the World Rural Forum, held from 25-29 March 2019. They were there to thrash out an action plan for the decade – to make sure they get the recognition they deserve as innovators for a more sustainable future. 

Family farming involves almost 1.5 billion people worldwide. 

Why are family farms important?

Family farms offer food security for the poor – they supply food, and the wood on which most of this food is cooked, as well as the materials for the timber homes in which farmers live. Almost all forest-dependent people are family farmers, key to managing much of the world’s remaining biodiverse natural forests. Their huge numbers also give them unique power to restore degraded lands through tree planting – often referred to as Forest Landscape Restoration.

They plant a range of different agricultural and tree crops and as new enterprises develop, based on this mosaic of forest and farms, they offer an integrated, equitable and resilient future, helping these men and women farmers to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change – a modern solution to problems cause by an outdated industrial approach.  

Family farms helping to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals

Many of the organisations present in Bilbao are supported by the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), co-managed by FAO, IIED, IUCN and Agricord. For development and climate action programmes, finance is generally channelled through development banks, consultancy firms and non-government organisations (NGOs).

Unusually, FFF channels its support directly to forest and farm producer organisations. Funds help strengthen farmers’ voices in political decision-making, and strengthen their enterprise, climate contributions and social and cultural services. 

FFF does this because it views family farms as the implementing agents of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and local climate action.

How family farming organisations might help deliver the SDGs quickly became apparent at the World Rural Forum as participants began to present solutions. Twenty-five English-speaking family farming organisations listed the following modern solutions they will provide:

  • Representing farmer needs in multi-level policy roundtables and platforms
  • Organisational development to help manage huge rural areas and aggregate products from commodity groups across different areas of the country to improve market power
  • Technical extension services and capacity-building around land use planning, cultivation, organic and other types of certification, business, financial management, technology (irrigation, for example)
  • Business support for different types of agribusiness – access to markets and marketing
  • Financial service provision – from setting up village saving and loan associations to linking (and even running) mainstream banks
  • Promoting gender equity in farm and forest rights and institutions, and
  • Youth strategies to avoid outward migration – including alternative media savvy livelihoods.

Coming together with a 10-year plan

A survey had asked participants to prioritise areas in which their organisations might contribute to the Action Plan for the Decade of Family Farming. Once again, their response was impressive in its holistic ambition.

While not yet fully negotiated (a lot of farmers means a lot of negotiating), current consensus is that the action plan will prioritise seven areas, forming the basis of the decade’s action plan. These are:

  • Strengthening family farming organisational capacity and governance
  • Sustainable production and related services (eg innovations in certification)
  • Climate action and resilience through sustainable natural resource management
  • Farmer-led innovations in business incubation and financial service provision
  • Social protection and cultural service provision (complementing weak State provision)
  • Information and communication technology to improve knowledge sharing
  • Collective action and advocacy for enabling policy processes for family farming.

Eighty-plus representatives of family farming organisations came to Bilbao, Spain at the end of March to be part of the launch of the Decade of Family Farming at the World Rural Forum (Photo: Duncan Macqueen/IIED)

New partners and wider ambition

Family farming partner organisations of FFF also met to share success stories and plans for a new second phase of work that will complement the Decade of Family Farming. A wide range of policy wins and sustainable business developments by these organisations supported in the 10 partner countries of Phase I has led to an expanded ambition for Phase II, including the addition of four new core partner countries (Ecuador, Ghana, Madagascar and Togo).

Among the innovative new strategies is the installation of business incubation capacity within the family farming organisations to avoid dependence on external service providers. Another novelty is making climate-resilience targets and social and cultural service provision integral to the activities of family farming organisations.

IIED believes that these more integrated solutions emerging in family farming organisations are a modern approach to the planetary challenges we face.