Stained Glass, Sao Paolo

Did you know that 2014 was the International Year of Family Farming? Know their worth!

FAO, the UN fountainhead for securing global food in its recent report on family farms informed that more than 500 million family farms produce about 80 percent of the world’s food in value terms, and collectively they are the largest source of employment worldwide. Yet the highest rate of suicide for any occupation are farmers globally.
Stained glass; Sao Paolo Mercado, the municipal market

Stained glass; Sao Paolo Mercado, the municipal market/SD

According to FAO figures, 80% of the world’s food is produced in family farms who mostly have minimum survival income, unprotected, and face the onslaught of the free market. Indian newspapers are screaming about farmer suicides; African countries farmlands are being grabbed; rain forests of Borneo and Amazon are ethanol plantations, yet the small family farmer remains vulnerable. Newsweek in 2014 reported that

“one farmer commits suicide daily in UK and China, in two days in France, every four days in Australia and India reports more than 17,627 farmer suicides”

Climate change, is making these family farms more vulnerable, with dwindling resources like water and nutrient soil while, newer pests and extreme weather events are on the rise. The large scale corporate dominated food production approach has not been very successful , agrees many experts but they corner most of the subsidies and research budget.

Small family farms are extremely crucial for ensuring global food security and the infographic from FAO is revealing.



The International Year for family farms is a noble gesture but that does not stop farmers from turning suicidal. FAO strongly recommends Agrarian reforms, including in aquatic, forestry and pastoral sectors  and the need for developing stronger farmer organisations to balance the economic and political power of other actors. A host of FAO suggestions can be found on their partner, ILEIA’s website. In a recent forum of crop production specialists, organized by FAO in Rome, numerous research success were shared; which was well captured by William Murray, a Senior Programme Coordinator at FAO.

  • In Viet Nam, more than a million small-scale farmers have adopted the System of Rice Intensification producing high yields using less fertilizer, water and seed than conventional irrigated rice.
  • In China, planting genetically diverse rice varieties cut fungal disease incidence.
  • In southern India, site-specific nutrient management, reduced fertilizer applications and costs, while increasing wheat yields by 40 percent.
  • The elimination of soil tillage on wheat land in central Morocco cut water runoff volume by 30% and sediment loss by 70%.
  • In Zimbabwe, conservation agriculture has helped smallholder farmers produce up to eight times more maize per hectare than the national average.
  • Farmers in Zambia grow an acacia tree, Faidherbia albida, near maize fields, and use its nitrogen-rich leaves as fertilizer resulting in a threefold increase in maize yields.

Many country governments who invest their tax payers money in FAO however seem to pursue a policy of appeasing powerful clients which is not very helpful to turn the tide in favour of small farmers. The Brazilian government in October 2014 donated 150,000 USD to the FAO for the International Year of Family Farming while most of the Brazilian governments policies are usurping farmers from their land. India recently passed an urgent executive order to make land acquisition easier for capital intensive projects but this will force small farmers to pursue the destructive suicidal path; which is already a blot on the country. Probably organizations like FAO and the UN need to do more, as fund recipients if they intend to ensure their advise is taken seriously.

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