Family farming under pressure; must be protected for sustainable development

The session was held in the backdrop of the United Nations General Assembly having declared 2019-2028 as the 'UN Decade of Family Farming.'

Family farming holds a lot of significance in today’s world, playing a central role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, and improving livelihoods. Additionally, it is also critical for protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development, especially in developing economies. Family farming encompasses all family-based agricultural activities that are managed and operated by a family and are chiefly reliant on family labour.

Family farming has lately come under lot of pressure from an array of modern challenges, thus threatening societal fabric. Recognising this, in December 2017, the United Nations General Assembly declared the UN Decade of Family Farming 2019-2028 to serve as a framework for developing public policies to provide support to family farming throughout the globe.

In this context, a plenary session ‘Commemorating the UN Decade of Family Farming (2019-2028): Striving for Local Sustainability at the Global Level’ was held on Day 2 of the World Sustainable Development Summit 2019. The session had a host of dignitaries from India and abroad who deliberated on the challenges and possible solutions related to the issue in India.

P.K. Basu, Former Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt of India, kickstarted the proceedings talking about the various intricacies of family farming. This was followed by brief presentations from Dr Alok Adholeya, Senior Fellow and Senior Director, Sustainable Agriculture Division, TERI; Dr Hemant Kumar Badola, Advisor (Biodiversity, Climate Change, GTT facilitator), Chief Minister’s Office, Government of Sikkim; Edward Millard, Director – Landscapes and Communities, Rainforest Alliance; Kazuhiko Takeuchi, President, Institute for Global Environmental Studies (IGES), Japan; and Ashwani K Muthoo, Director, Global Engagement and Multilateral Relations Division, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), who rounded up the session with nuances from the upcoming launch of the Decade of Family farming in May 2019 at Rome.

Mr Basu talked about family farming from the perspective of food security. In India and other Asian countries, most of the food production is done by small producers. Mr Basu said that even though we have made large strides in scientific knowledge in agriculture, it does not percolate to small producers. The issue stems from the fact that this segment of the population, for whom the policy has been made, is not part of the policy making process, thus creating a chasm.

Globally, 84% of all farmers have two hectares of land or less, thus making family farming largely synonymous with small farming. It was noted by the panel that the diminishing size of average farm land is a major issue and, in India, 86% of farm land is currently owned by small and marginal farmers. The repeated division of land holding is also contributing to less profitability. Additionally, another major challenge plaguing family farming is migration, with large sections moving towards urban centres in search of better opportunities.

Another issue identified by the panel was the fact that the number of women land owners is still quite less, which is something that needs government intervention. There is a need to listen to the voices of the women involved in family farming while formulating policy and plans.

The panel also discussed some solutions such as creating skill generation opportunities and promoting micro entrepreneurship. Increasing resource efficiency was also identified as a possible solution. Offering a global perspective, Mr Miller suggested the introduction of a certification system that can standardise and certify certain best practices.

The role of the private sector in forging partnerships as a way forward also found focus in the panel discussion. Panellists felt there is a need to leverage investments from the private sector and bring down the risk barrier, given that small farmers are seen as risky investment.

Showcasing agriculture as a lucrative investment sector would also bring about social inclusion for farmers to further pare the risk. The private sector can potentially galvanise family farming, not just through investment, but by fostering innovation, expertise, and technology. The panel concluded the session by identifying inclusive rural development and economic transformation as the need of the hour to achieve some of our sustainable development goals.