How Farmers are Creating Resilient Local Food Systems

The food system depends on a healthy environment, but poor agricultural practices are responsible for environmental degradation. Beekeepers continue to lose 30 percent of honeybee colonies during an average winter—likely due to pesticides and other agrochemicals. Soil degradation is occurring at staggering rates, with soils being depleted 10 to 40 times faster than they are being replenished. And up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.

The increase in food prices in 2008, Russian wildfires brought on by excessive heat and drought in 2010, and, most recently, the worst drought in more than 100 years in California—all are warning signs that farmers and farmers’ groups, global food producers, industry leaders, researchers, and scientists must address the planet’s food security in the face of weather volatility and climate change.

This week, Food Tank and The Lexicon of Sustainability are spotlighting farming and resilience through The Food List, a cross-media messaging campaign that provides the vital tools needed for fixing the food system.

Farmers depend on just a handful of crop varieties: according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), approximately half of farmland—more than 60 million hectares, or 150 million acres—in the U.S. is planted with corn or soy. This lack of diversity limits farmers’ ability to adapt to varying weather patterns and climate change.

“The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word,” wrote food author and activist Michael Pollan.

A more resilient agricultural system is needed, especially in the face of climate change. “With 80 million more mouths to feed each year and with increasing demand for grain-intensive livestock products, the rise in temperature only adds to the stress. If we continue with business as usual on the climate front, it is only a matter of time before what we [saw] in Russia becomes commonplace,” said Lester Brown, U.S. environmental analyst, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute.

Family farmers and food revolutionaries are working to create this paradigm shift by restoring ecological resilience in their local communities. Many farmers are diversifying their cropping systems and working together on projects to preserve biodiversity in fields and on plates.

According to Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune, Soil Health Division director for the U.S. National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers are improving soil’s “ability to take in and hold ‘water in the bank.’ They’re even creating wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while decreasing risks from extreme weather and harvesting better profits and often better yields.”

Here’s how family farmers, food heroes, and organizations around the world are working to create resilient local food systems that are immune to the shocks of climate change and ecological disturbance.

Adapt-N is an interactive tool developed by researchers at Cornell University, designed to help corn growers reduce nitrogen applications based on site-specific recommendations. The website is part of a suite of decision-support tools from Cornell to help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change in the U.S.

DivSeek, an international partnership launched in January 2015, use big data to catalog the physical and genetic information held within international gene banks, and to make it available online. The initiative, involving 69 organizations from 30 countries, enhances the productivity and resilience of global crops by giving breeders and researchers access to information through an online portal.

In the Philippines, Dr. Wilson Cerbito, Assistant Regional Director of the Department of Agriculture, addressed the First Agriculture Summit on May 7, 2015, noting the Philippines is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. The event outlined strategies for improving productivity of rice and root crops through technologies and practices that promote ecological resilience.

Full Belly Farm received the California Leopold Conservation Award for its land stewardship and conservation efforts. Judith Redmond, a manager of the farm, demonstrated resilience in the face of extreme drought by changing her crop choices, implementing drip irrigation, and reducing her reliance on groundwater. The creek that usually irrigates her crops ran completely dry last year, but Redmond was still able to water her land using micro-irrigation.

La Red de Guardianes de Semillas (The Network of Seed Guardians) is preserving rare plant varieties and culturally important seeds in Tumbaco, Ecuador. The community model for seed-saving fosters the exchange of cultural knowledge between small farmers, trains growers on permaculture techniques, and works to preserve biodiversity throughout Ecuador. The coupling of cultural heritage and biological heredity in something so small as a seed gets at the heart of the resilience concept: the more biologically and culturally varied a system, the more buffered it is against disturbance.

The Lexicon of Sustainability is spreading the word about agricultural resilience through information artworks and inventive media campaigns. Douglas Gayeton, multimedia artist and the organization’s founder, emphasizes that “there are farmers who believe in biodiversity instead of monoculture. Farmers who build soil fertility without depending on chemicals. Farmers who go beyond organic.” By defining terms such as true cost accounting, The Lexicon of Sustainability seeks to describe a vision for resilience through engaging stories.

Who do you know about that is creating a resilient local food system? We want to know! Share them with me at Danielle@foodtank.com.

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The Farmers and Food System Leaders of Tomorrow

Repost from Food Tank

Young people are the farmers and food system leaders of tomorrow. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), young people are increasingly abandoning agriculture and rural areas in search of better prospects, which makes creating opportunities for young people to contribute to their agricultural communities an urgent need.

Today, young people can explore career options in permaculture design, biodynamic farming, communication technologies, forecasting, marketing, logistics, quality assurance, urban agriculture projects, food preparation, environmental sciences, and more.

In the coming year at Food Tank, we are focusing our work on the world’s next generation of agricultural leaders—amplifying and deepening our research, growing our online community, and continuing to encourage an energized global dialogue on the important issue of youth in agriculture in partnership with IFAD.

With an aging population of farmers, it’s clear that agriculture needs to attract more young people. Half of the farmers in the United States are 55 or older, and the average age of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is roughly 60 years old. The United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) predicts that, globally, there will be 74.2 million unemployed young people this year, an increase of 3.8 million since 2007.

The agricultural sector offers great potential for job creation; effectively publicizing the market’s open and varied employment opportunities can radically change youths’ perception of agriculture and as a result, radically change agriculture’s lasting impact.

Now, more than ever, we need to help educate, motivate, prepare, and support the world’s next generation of agricultural leaders and farmers.

“I would ask that—not only in my own country, but across the world—opportunities are created for us [young people] to prove that, yes, we can do it,” Sandra Sandoval, a young rural businesswoman from El Salvador, told IFAD.

In a recent report, IFAD identified six main challenges that youth face in entering the agriculture field: insufficient access to knowledge, information, and education; limited access to land; inadequate access to financial services; difficulties accessing jobs in agriculture field; limited access to markets; and limited involvement in policy dialogue.

To combat these issues, IFAD is investing in youth, especially rural youth. The programs IFAD supports enable young, rural people to gain access to the resources and tools necessary to be productive and enter agricultural markets.

In Zanzibar, farmer field schools allow new farmers to learn agricultural practices—and to mentor their peers. Farmer field schools use participatory group approaches to teach people how to farm and to tackle agricultural challenges, and, as a result, increase yields and knowledge. “Since I joined this group, I am no longer dependent on my family,” Zeyana Ali Said, a rural poultry farmer in Zanzibar, told IFAD. “Now I completely depend on myself. Before, I was getting about five or seven eggs from each hen. But now I get up to 25 eggs [per hen each month].”

The IFAD Rural Youth Talents Program in South America seeks to publicize and share knowledge from lessons learned in rural youth agriculture programs. The goal is to establish and strengthen networks of youth engaged in food and agriculture, as well involve more youth in the field.

In Uganda, IFAD supports the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project, which improves nutrition and food knowledge through school gardens in ten primary and five secondary schools.

In Saint Lucia, the Helping Out Our Primary and Secondary Schools (HOOPSS) project has created school gardens in more than a dozen schools, and teaches children techniques such as organic fertilizer use and rainwater harvesting.

In Madagascar, the PROSPERER project promotes rural entrepreneurship through apprenticeships that include training and marketing materials in the regions of Sofia, Itasy, Analamanga, Haute Matsiatra, and Batovavy Fltovinagny.

In Brazil, the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura – CONTAG) established a youth knowledge program to enhance the skills of young farmers. The organization provides a free online training course for young farmers, which includes information on family farming, health, and labor laws.

Through Food Tank’s partnership with IFAD, we hope to strengthen the number of youth involved in agriculture fields at all levels. The time to invest in the agricultural leaders of tomorrow is now.

by Danielle Nierenberg and Sarah Small

Can giving full land ownership to small holder farmers double world food production?

Around the world, small holder farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture, and it’s justified by the need to ‘feed the world’. But it’s the small farmers that are the most productive, and the more their land is grabbed, the more global hunger increases.

2014 was declared as the International Year of Family Farming, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released its annual ‘State of Food and Agriculture‘ dedicated to family farming. In the report, FAO says family farmers manage 70-80% of the world’s farmland and produce 80% of the world’s food. On the ground in Kenya, Brazil, China or Spain – rural people are being marginalised, threatened, displaced, beaten and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land.

A recent comprehensive survey by GRAIN, examining data from around the world, finds that while small farmers feed the world, they are doing so with just 24% of the world’s farmland – or 17% , and this meagre share is shrinking fast.

In its report, FAO claims family farms occupy 70 to 80% of the world’s farmland? In the same report, it claims that only 1% of all farms in the world are larger than 50 hectares, and that these few farms control 65% of the world’s farmland, a figure much more in line with GRAIN’s findings.

What then is a ‘family farm’

Confusion seems to stem from the way FAO deal with the concept of family farming, roughly defined as any farm managed by an individual or a household. (They admit there is no precise definition. Various countries, like Mali, have their own.) Does a huge industrial soya bean farm in rural Argentina, whose family owners live in Buenos Aires, count as a ‘family farm’?. What about sprawling Hacienda Luisita, owned by the powerful Cojuanco family in the Philippines and epicentre of the country’s battle for agrarian reform since decades. Is that a family farm?

Taking ownership to determine what is and is not a family farm masks all the inequities, injustices and struggles that peasants and other small scale food producers across the world are mired in. This way, FAO conveniently ignores perhaps the most crucial factor affecting the capacity of small holder farmers to produce food; lack of access to land, and instead focuses its message on how family farmers should innovate and be more productive.

Small farmers are ever more squeezed in

Access to land is shrinking due a range of forces; population pressure, farms are getting divided up amongst family members, and vertiginous expansion of monoculture plantations. In the last 50 years, a staggering 140 million hectares – the size of almost all the farmland in India – has been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane. And this trend is accelerating. In the next few decades, experts predict that the global area planted to oil palm will double, while the soybean area will grow by a third. These crops don’t feed people. They are grown to feed the agro-industrial complex.

Other pressures pushing small food producers off their land include the runaway plague of large-scale land grabs by corporate interests. In the last few years alone, according to the World Bank, some 60 million hectares of fertile farmland have been leased, on a long-term basis, to foreign investors and local elites, mostly in the global South. While some of this is for energy production, a big part of it is to produce food commodities for the global market, instead of family farming.

Small is beautiful – and productive

The paradox, however, and one of the reasons why despite having so little land, small producers are feeding the planet, is that small farms are often more productive than large ones. If the yields achieved by Kenya’s small farmers were matched by the country’s large-scale operations, the country’s agricultural output would double. In Central America, the region’s food production would triple. If Russia’s big farms were as productive as its small ones, output would increase by a factor of six.

Another reason why small farms are the feeding the planet is because they prioritise food production. They tend to focus on local and national markets and their own families. In fact, much of what they produce doesn’t enter into trade statistics – but it does reach those who need it most: the rural and urban poor.

Should current processes of land concentration continue, then no matter how hard-working, efficient and productive they are, small farmers will simply not be able to carry on. The data show that the concentration of farmland in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry every day.

According to one UN study, active policies supporting small producers and agro-ecological farming methods could double global food production in a decade and enable small farmers to continue to produce and utilise biodiversity, maintain ecosystems and local economies, while multiplying and strengthening meaningful work opportunities and social cohesion in rural areas.

To double global food production, we must support the small farmers

Experts and development agencies are constantly saying that we need to double food production in the coming decades. To achieve that, they usually recommend a combination of trade and investment liberalization plus new technologies. This ,however only empowers corporate interests and fuels inequality. The real solution is to turn control and resources over to small producers themselves and enact agricultural policies to support them. We need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for genuine and comprehensive agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems worldwide.

for over 30 years, my family has been farming on this piece of land, producing mainly for household consumption. As our family decreased in size, we now sell of the surplus from bananas, milk, and most recently manure from the cows This year, we will transition the cows to zero grazing to grow more food for sell
for over 30 years, my family has been farming on this piece of land, producing mainly for household consumption. As our family decreased in size, we now sell of the surplus from bananas, milk, and most recently manure from the cows
This year, we will transition the cows to zero grazing to grow more food for sell

Une plateforme multimédia pour découvrir l’agriculture familiale

SOS Faim a le plaisir de vous présenter son nouvel outil pédagogique.

Une plateforme multimédia pour découvrir l’agriculture familiale

sos faim

Voyagez au cœur de l’agriculture familiale pour comprendre comment elle répond aux grands enjeux de demain et quels sont ses défis.

Aujourd’hui, 1 personne sur 8 s’endort le ventre vide. En 2050, il y aura 2 milliards de bouches supplémentaires à nourrir. Un défi impossible ? Non !
L’agriculture familiale est racontée au travers de vidéos, infographies, photos et témoignages d’acteurs du Sud et du Nord. Découvrez ce nouvel outil accessible à tous ceux qui souhaitent la découvrir ou mieux la comprendre.

Par ailleurs, si vous trouvez cet outil intéressant, n’hésitez pas à le diffuser autour de vous. Des possibilités de diffusion sont reprises dans le document en annexe.

Bonne découverte de la plateforme !

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What is smallholder agriculture?

Of the 1.4 billion extremely poor people in the world (living on less than USD1.25/day), 70 percent are
estimated to live in rural areas and most of them depend partly (or completely) on agriculture. For this
reason, the urgent and undeniable need to reduce poverty puts smallholder agriculture at centre stage.

Investment for agriculture and especially for small holders is acknowledged to be an absolute necessity, especially as the majority of the hungry people in the world are, paradoxically, small farmers.

In order to address food waste/food loss, requires us to understand what we are talking about from the perspective of small holder farmers –  what is smallholder agriculture – and to reflect upon the very future of
small-scale agriculture in the scope of FLW (food loss and waste).
We are often confronted with very contrasting visions based on national situations and trajectories. The majority of investments in agriculture are realized by farmers themselves.Therefore,the main issue is to better understand what smallholders need to be able to invest.
bush_bean_trial_rwanda
What is smallholder agriculture?
There are a number of different definitions of “smallholder agriculture” and each definition
carries implications for the measurement of the number of smallholders. Definitions also guide our understanding of the investment needs of smallholders. A discussion on definitions is therefore neither trivial nor academic, but has real implications for policies and impacts on livelihoods.
Smallholder agriculture is practiced by families (including one or more households) using only or mostly family labor and deriving from that work a large but variable share of their income, in kind or in cash. Agriculture includes crop raising, animal husbandry, forestry and artisanal fisheries. The holdings are run by family groups, a large proportion of which are headed by women, and women play important roles in production, processing and marketing activities.
The definition of “smallholder agriculture” cannot be rigid or “one size fits all”: there are many variations in each specific context at the regional, national and local levels, and also over time as economies transform. Classifications of smallholder agriculture based only on farm size can be misleading. A smallholding is “small” because resources are scarce, especially land,and using it to generate a level of income that helps fulfil basic needs and achieve a sustainable livelihood consequently require a high level of total factor productivity, requiring in turn a significant level of investment.
Smallholder agriculture is also defined in relation to, and in contrast with, two opposites – larger commercial holdings with hired labour on the one hand, and landless workers on the other.
Off- farm activities play an important role in providing smallholders with additional income and as a way of diversifying risk, thus improving their resilience to the shocks that impact on agriculture. Off – farm activities are a common feature of rural economies, both in developed and developing countries , and offer opportunities for investments in support of smallholders.
The family is at the same time a social unit of production and consumption and the source of labour for agriculture. The productive and the domestic sides of smallholder farmers are closely linked. These linkages explain some of the constraints faced by smallholders regarding investments, as shocks and risks can spread between the production side and the family side; they also explain the resilience of rural societies because of reciprocal ties relying on kinship and social proximity.
Today, smallholder farmers detached from any type of market exchange are no longer significant in social or economic terms, but smallholders producing only or mainly for subsistence are not uncommon – in all regions. These farms rely on their own production for food consumption, as a complement to low monetary incomes. These smallholders are part of the market economy through their provision of labour, and their food security depends on their production, which does not necessarily enter the market.
At the collective level, smallholders’ families are part of social networks within which mutual assistance and reciprocity translate into collective investments (mainly through work exchanges) and into solidarity systems. They also participate – when political freedom allows it – in rural producers’ organizations and local development associations in order to improve service provisions, including market access and market power , access to productive assets and to have a voice in public policy debates.
To appraise the magnitude and diversity of smallholder agriculture and to inform sound policy – making, more accurate and extensive data are needed: not only on land size, but also on assets’ composition (resulting from past investments), production and sources of income. Such data are currently not available at the global level, and at the national level for some countries only. The FAO’s World Census of Agriculture (WCA) frames and organizes the way censuses have to be implemented in all countries. However, there are three difficulties that need to be overcome: (i) not all the countries have the means, the interest and the capacities to carry them out: the last completed WCA round covered 114 countries; (ii) data are not always homogeneous and comparable; they can vary according to the specific focus of each country; and (iii) they are not linked to production statistics, making it difficult to make the link to national and global production according to the type of holding.
Smallholder agriculture is the foundation of food security in many countries and an important part of the socio/economic/ecological landscape in all countries. With urbanization, integration and globalization of markets, the sector is undergoing great transformations that are of vital national interest, that are often against the interests of smallholders, and that are neither inevitable nor a matter of chance, but of social choice. Depending on regional, national and sub-national contexts, these transformations can lead to various patterns, which all entail a certain proportion of smallholders and larger farms, with impacts on the diversification of the rural economies.
Smallholders contribute to world food security and nutrition while performing other related roles in their territories. Historical evidence shows that smallholder agriculture, adequately supported by policy and public investments, has the capacity to contribute effectively to food security, food sovereignty, and substantially and significantly to economic growth, the generation of employment, poverty reduction, the emancipation of neglected and marginalized groups, and the reduction of spatial and socio – economic inequalities. Within an enabling political and institutional environment, it can contribute to sustainable management of biodiversity and other natural resources while preserving cultural heritage.
dufatanye Twese
myself with a women farmer group in Rwanda This January, i look forward to a possible visit to Rwanda, writing about food systems in a country that has been posed to be the possible breadbasket for the region
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