There are more than 500 million family farms in the world and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that family farms supply over 70 per cent of the world’s food. This were some of the key statistics raised a recent conference on Family Farming organised by the European Commission.

Dacian Cioloş, European Union Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, remarked: “Family farming is a fundamental element of EU agriculture and an intrinsic part of its rural economy.With 12 million farms, 172 million hectares of farmland and 25 million people involved, it is an effective tool of rural development. Family farming is at the core of reaching the key objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy.”

A number of key issues were teased out at the conference, which are relevant to family farms all over the world.

Sustainable livelihoods

There is recognition that it is important for family farms to be actively involved in the food value chains. Access to credit and to land, water and other natural resources is critical. Family farming should be profitable and competitive. To achieve this, particular attention should be given to investments, transfer of knowledge, research, innovation and training.

Innovation and knowledge transfer

There is a need to promote innovation in family farms, taking into account the diversity of family farms, the different natural conditions in which they operate and there varying degrees of technological development.There are a number of obstacles to the uptake of innovation on family farms that need to be addressed: lack of access to knowledge, insufficient information flow, weak exchange of research results and too little responsiveness to the needs of farmers.

Initiatives enhancing innovation as an inherent part of agriculture should be promoted to keep family farms viable and sustainable. There is a key role for agricultural support services to act as ‘innovation brokers’. It is essential to create a space for public and private actors where they can come together to discuss with farmers and other stakeholders the goals of innovation.

Organisation models

The co-operative model has emerged from the need of family farms to provide back up and support for family farming. Co-operative organisation provides the structures and impetus for dialogue, market access and competitiveness.

One of the key benefits of a well-functioning cooperative is a delivery of a good balance between the performance based on individual interest and the strength of the joint actions in the market. Evolving models of cooperatives need to be supported. Family farming is constantly evolving, providing safe and high quality products and a lot of job creation potential.

Equal opportunities

Women and youth women farmers and young people are increasingly contributing to a more sustainable and innovative model of family farming. Lack of equal opportunities for women and young people hinders growth. Ensuring legal rights and also addressing culture and tradition – working with these two approaches is necessary to support women farmers. Equality promotes progress.

Preserving rural heritage and landscape

There is recognition of the important role family farming plays in preserving traditions, culture and rural landscape. Family farming is often seen going beyond professional occupation because it reflects a lifestyle based on beliefs and traditions about living and work.

There is a broad consensus on the importance of these themes, leading to a very strong conclusion: if family farming is essential for food security, it is also facing major challenges in terms of access to land, markets, financing, innovation, administrative capacity, ability to be heard collectively and to cope with market volatility. Evidently, some of these issues are more pressing in some continents than others.

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