Small is Beautiful: A New Decade of Smallholder Farmers

Farming is a huge global industry employing over 30 percent of the world’s workforce. And, while you may be picturing large, perfectly square grain fields, like those in the fly-over states, the majority of the world’s farms are in developing countries, where 60 percent of workers are farmers and 43 percent of farmers are women.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that smallholder family farmers control 75 percent of the world’s agricultural resources and produce more than 80 percent of the food. Additionally, about 750 million of the world’s extreme poor work in agriculture. These farmers are mostly subsistence farmers, meaning they produce just enough to survive. Some don’t own the land they cultivate, but simple try to live off what land surrounds them; some of them are being pushed out of their fields by international commercial farmers or by violence and conflict; and most of them are negatively impacted by the drastically changing climate that is causing droughts, floods, and food shortages around the globe.

However, smallholder farmers can also help remedy many of the climate and world hunger issues facing us. When farmers properly cultivate the land, manage soil loss and depletion, conserve natural resources, and protect wildlife, this appreciably improves the environment and subsequently the farmers’ lives and their surrounding communities. The question then becomes: how do we help subsistence farmers become more sustainable?

Planet Aid’s Part

Planet Aid has been supporting Farmers’ Clubs around the globe for over a decade. A recent testament to the benefits of the Farmers’ Clubs comes from Belize, where climate change has greatly impacted the local subsistence farmers’ ability to grow enough food. Farmers’ Clubs in the Toleda area of Belize are strengthening growers’ resistance to the changing climate in many ways, including by helping them to grow a wider diversity of crops and livestock, and thereby improve their resilience in the face of increasing crop failures.

Farmers’ Clubs bring rural farmers together to embrace opportunities to improve their lives and rise from poverty. The clubs provide them with the means to experiment with sustainable new techniques and help them find new markets, which increases their income. We’ve also implemented the Farmers’ Club concept amongst fisheries in Brazil, supporting local families in sustainable fishing methods and diet diversification.

While we’ve seen great progress, more needs to be done on a wider scale in order to bring about the changes that are necessary. This is where the newly launched “Decade of Family Farming” comes into play.

The Decade of Family Farming

The Decade of Family Farming is an UN resolution, first proposed in November of 2017, unanimously approved in December of 2018, and begun on January 1, that “aims to inspire the international community to generate a refreshed political commitment supporting family farmers and crafting pro-family farming policies.”

The Decade expands upon the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) that took place in 2014, and raised international consciousness of the potential role of family farming in achieving a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As development challenges and solutions are not cookie-cutter and require long-term capacity building and commitment, the Decade will build on the IYFF’s work to fully and clearly develop policies, procedures, and guidelines that support family farming. As a companion of the SDGs, the Decade of Family Farming will help end hunger and protect the environment, while also boosting the economic viability of family farmers around the globe.

Assisting in the Field

There is much governments and local organizations can do to ensure the sustainability of the farmer in developing nations, and this resolution is a public acknowledgement of the need to better support subsistence farming as a means of achieving the SDGs.

Tangibly, this means that UN member states are committing to changing policies and practices to ones that will support and improve family farming. Some examples from the Decade of Family Farming resolution include:

  • Strengthening climate change collaboration across the world to share lessons learned and new ideas.
  • Working with and strongly supporting farmers’ organizations (like the World Farmers’ Organisation), specifically those which are inclusive of women and other minorities, to help them deliver better services to their members, enhance the farmers’ voice and impact in global political discussions, and develop better access to markets and services.
  • Bolstering farmers’ capabilities and protecting the environment by promoting the use of sustainable farming methods, conservation of natural resources, and safe use of antimicrobials.
  • Implementing guidelines and policies which serve to protect the farmer and the environment.

Recognition and Commitment

The Decade of Family Farming resolution recognizes the role the family farm plays in sustainability and progress, and embraces a commitment to open more doors for all family farmers to ensure a better life for them, their families, their communities, their countries, and ultimately, the world.

Planet Aid is looking forward to continuing to assist those who work the land and help them to rise from poverty.

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