On 15th March 2013, FAO’s Director General, Dr. Graziano da Silva was a keynote speaker at the Dies Natalis of Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) in The Netherlands. He pointed at the upcoming Year of Family Farming in 2014, a tribute to the important role family farmers play in ensuring food security in their countries.
Three days later, on Monday 18th March, Irene Cardoso, a soil scientist from Brazil, spoke in the same university about the power of agro-ecology, as part of a national debate series on the impact of food production on ecology, energy, development and health. Whereas Graziano had an audience of predominantly professors, staff and alumni of the university, Irene spoke mainly to international students, farmers and civil society actors.
Graziano rightly noted that small scale family farming is the main producer of food consumed in most developing countries. However, he emphasized that family farming and large scale industrial agriculture should co-exist. "I believe there is room for both agricultural models in the world today, we need both of them," he said.
Irene Cardoso, who is the vice-president of the Brazilian Association for Agro-ecology, also demonstrated that it is in the first place sustainable family farming that feeds the people of Brazil. But industrial monocultures are on the rise. “Large scale soybean production in Brazil is there to feed cows in the Netherlands and China while destroying Brazilian rainforests and threatening the survival of small scale farmers”.
Cardoso highlighted the power of agro-ecological family farming, and the need to support it by creating enabling policies: a political solution to a political problem.
The policies we need
The messages of these two speakers, both from Brazil, reminded me of another message, by an African farmer, last year during the Rio+20 Conference. Djibo Bagna, who is the president of ROPPA, the network of small-scale producers organisations in West Africa, stood up and praised Brazil for its innovative public policies in support of family farming:
“These are the type of policies we need in Africa. We call for your support in developing them in the African context”. Immediately after, he raised a concern: “But we are not interested in your agro-industrial model of large-scale production as this increases inequalities, exploits the natural resource base and marginalizes the space for small-scale family farmers”. He got a standing ovation from the audience.
Use the opportunity
A lot of water will flow through the Amazon, the Niger and the Rhine rivers before two such divergent agricultural paradigms have found a way to co-exist without one system destroying the other. Let the Year of Family Farming be a year of reflection on essential family farming values such as food sovereignty, respect for nature, diversity and human dignity, that should not be compromised for “larger” development objectives.
We call upon FAO to put its money where its mouth is use the International Year of Family Farming in 2014 as a strategic and urgent opportunity to work with farmers, scientists, governments and civil society to create an enabling environment for sustainable family farming.
The FAO and the WUR have signed an agreement for future cooperation. They can decide to make a difference: they can make 2014 the beginning of a new era where they stand with family farmers, or continue with business as usual.
Edith van Walsumdirector of ILEIA, Center for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture, The Netherlands
- FAO news release and WUR video of speech Graziano Da Silva, 15 march 2013
- Presentation of Irene Cardoso, 18 March 2013
- More about the International Year of Family Farming