Family Farming is the Key to a Hunger-Free Future

23 Oct 2014

My greetings to all the participants of this year’s Terra Madre. In particular, I would like to salute my dear friend Carlo Petrini and all the family farmers who are with us today.


As you know, 2014 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) and family farmers were also celebrated last week on World Food Day. Today, family farmers are recognized as protagonists in the sustainable and hunger-free future that we want and are working to achieve.


Half a century ago the world chose the path of increasing food production through the intensive use of chemical inputs and natural resources. The Green Revolution was the right response for its time and avoided widespread famine in Asia. At the same time, it proved insufficient for ending hunger in the world, and the over 800 million chronically undernourished people alive today are living proof of this.


Over the years we have seen an unprecedented migration of young people from rural areas to urban centres, the degradation of natural resources, increased rural poverty and chronic hunger, especially in drylands and other marginalised regions. Decades of artificially low food prices put millions of poor farmers out of business. Then, when prices rocketed, the family farmers were the least able to gain from them because they are the weakest ring in the value chain.


In fact, many of them were negatively affected by the crisis because they are net food importers. We have reached the point where we now face a puzzling paradox: over 70 percent of the food insecure populations live in rural areas of the developing world, and most of them are subsistence farmers.


What does the combination of environmental degradation and continued exclusion through hunger tell us? It tells us that the responses of the past are insufficient to overcome the challenges we now face. We need to be as innovative as the Green Revolution in our quest to overcome the obstacles of today – climate change, environmental degradation and continuing hunger – despite the fact that the world already produces enough food for all.


In this scenario, family farmers emerge as a central part of the solution. For our present and our future, we need to strike a better balance between international markets and local communities, between the need to increase production and preserve and use our natural resources wisely, and we need to make sure that those who are in need have access to the food they need.

The simple fact, the truth, is that family farmers represent the large majority of all farms in the world. There are 500 million family farms out of a total of 570 million farms.


Furthermore, they are almost all small or very small farms. Farms with up to 2 hectares of land account for 84% of all farms but for only 12% of all lands. Even so, they already produce most of the food in the world. And they provide rural employment opportunities and are stewards of our natural resources. Generally speaking, they do this without adequate support. So, can you imagine their potential if they received the assistance they need?

This is what the IYFF is showing us: the potential of family farming, the challenges they face and how we can support this diverse group, that includes smallholders and medium scale farmers, peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional communities, forest farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists, collectors and many others.


Through an intense worldwide policy dialogue involving family farmers, governments, UN agencies, research organizations and the private sector, we have debated how to best support family farmers in their huge diversity across the world. The IYFF seeks to support the development of policies conducive to promoting sustainable family farming and to create a better understanding of the needs, constraints and potential of family farmers.

With an enabling policy environment, family farmers will improve food, nutrition and economic security, and also help to safeguard soil health, restore biodiversity, recycle nutrients, build climate resilience and save precious water.


Pro-family farming policies will also be win-win if they encompass those that support agroecological practices. We must continue this momentum. Our future depends on equitable, efficient and sustainable agriculture and food systems. These systems greatly depend on vibrant and prosperous family farming sectors in all regions of the world.


I am grateful to Terra Madre for having flagged this fight from the very beginning.


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