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
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6 incredible plants you might not have heard of

Tasty, nutritious crops that are clearly missing from your diet!

eggplant grown by Embaraga women's cooperative in Musanze, Rwanda
eggplant grown by Embaraga women’s cooperative in Musanze, Rwanda

All over the world local varieties of fruit, vegetables and grain are grown. Many are seemingly forgotten or are underutilized despite having outstanding nutritional or taste qualities. Some have good commercial potential and could be an excellent cash crop for a small scale or family farmers, aimed at the local, regional or international market.

Here are six traditional crops and six facts about them which might amaze you:

Amaranth leaves are usually picked fresh for use as greens in salads or blanched, steamed, boiled, fried in oil, and mixed with meat, fish, cucurbit seeds, groundnut or palm oil. It is gluten free and good for cardiovascular diseases, stomach ache and anaemia. It is a native species to the Andean region of South America, including Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. The leaves of the plant are frequently used in countries throughout Africa, the Caribbean, India and China

Moringa leaves are rich in protein, vitamins A, B and C, and minerals – highly recommended for pregnant and nursing mothers as well as young children.

Moringa is a genus of shrubs and trees with multi-purpose uses: its leaves, roots and immature pods are consumed as a vegetable. All parts of the moringa tree – bark, pods, leaves, nuts, seeds, tubers, roots, and flowers – are edible. The leaves are used fresh or dried and ground into powder. The seed pods are picked while still green and eaten fresh or cooked. Moringa seed oil is sweet, non-sticking, non-drying and resists rancidity, while the cake from seed is used to purify drinking water. The seeds are also be eaten green, roasted, powdered and steeped for tea or used in curries. Moringa is an important crop in India, Ethiopia, the Philippines and the Sudan, and is being grown in West, East and South Africa, tropical Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Florida and the Pacific Islands.

Moringa oleifera is the economically most valuable species and is native to South Asia, where it grows in the Himalayan foothills but is widely cultivated across the tropics. Nine species occur in eastern Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and Somalia, of which eight are endemic to Africa.

Teff grains are white, mixed or red, with the white fetching the highest and red the lowest price. Teff accounts for about two-third of the daily protein intake in the Ethiopian diet and is mainly used for making different kinds of enjera (pancake-like flat bread), porridge and feed.

Teff is a staple food crop of Ethiopia and Eritrea, having originated and diversified there. It has been introduced to South Africa where it is cultivated as a cover and forage crop while it is cultivated as a cereal crop in Northern Kenya.

Cultivated finger millet was domesticated about 5 000 years ago from the wild subspecies in the highlands that range from Ethiopia to Uganda. It can be stored for up to two years without harmful pesticides, acting as a food reserve during the lean season. Cultivated finger millet was domesticated about 5 000 years ago from the wild subspecies in the highlands that range from Ethiopia to Uganda. Domesticated finger millet was then also farmed in the lowlands of Africa. This was introduced into India around 3 000 years ago, with the result that India is now a secondary centre of diversity for finger millet.

Bambara groundnut is known as a “complete food” as the seeds contain on average 63% carbohydrate, 19% protein and 6.5% fat, making it a very important source of dietary protein. It is a grain legume grown mainly by subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Bambara groundnut is a grain legume grown mainly by subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. It is cultivated for its subterranean pods, is extremely hardy and produces reasonable yields even under conditions of drought and low soil fertility. The pods are approximately 1.5 cm long, and may be wrinkled and slightly oval or round, containing one to two seeds. The colour of the seeds varies from black, dark-brown, red, white, cream or a combination of these colours. At harvest, i.e. when the pods ripen, the plant is extracted from the soil, exposing the subterranean nuts.

The nuts may be eaten fresh (i.e. boiled or roasted before they are dried) as snacks but the majority of the nuts are consumed after they are dried. The dried nuts, with very hard seed coats, are milled and sieved to yield very fine flour that is used to prepare a variety of dishes including dumplings, cakes and biscuits. Bambara groundnut is indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa where it is widely cultivated. The centre of origin is most likely North-Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon, in West Africa. The species is also grown to a lesser extent in some Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

In different parts of Africa, the roots and fruits of the African garden eggplant are used as a sedative, and to treat colic and high blood pressure while the juice obtained by macerating the leaves is used to treat uterine complaints. Also, the extract of the leaves is used as a sedative and anti-emetic and to treat tetanus associated with miscarriages.

©West Africa Plants/Annette Gockele

If you’re ever in the mood to try something new, the good news is that there is certainly food you haven’t tasted before (and the list is growing)

The Rome Declaration on Nutrition

The second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) is expected to endorse a political outcome document, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and an accompanying technical Framework for Action to guide its implementation. The Declaration commits countries to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide – particularly undernutrition in children, anaemia in women and children, among other micronutrient deficiencies – as well as reverse the trend in obesity. It aims to do this by increasing investments in food systems to improve people’s diets and nutrition. The Framework proposes the creation of an enabling environment for effective action and for strengthening sustainable food systems, including through investments in pro-poor agriculture and smallholder agriculture to improve diets and raise levels of nutrition; nutrition education and information; social protection; strengthened health systems for addressing specific conditions; improved water, sanitation and hygiene; and improved food safety.

Date: 17/11/2014
Download: PDF version

Supporting Family Farmers in 2014 and Beyond

The year 2014 has been declared IYFF, the international year of family farming by the United Nations General Assembly. It is a worldwide celebration that aims to change the position of farming families, indigenous groups, cooperatives, and fishing families , putting them at the center of agricultural, environmental, and social policies.

The IYFF aims to focus international attention on the men, women, and youth who operate the more than 400 million family farms around the world.

Arnest, a youth farmer with a vision, located in Kayunga District in Uganda
Arnest, a youth farmer with a vision, located in Kayunga District in Uganda

IYFF strives to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming by focusing global attention on its significant role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing and preserving natural resources, protecting the environment, improving equality, and emphasizing the important role of women farmers and youth to build a more sustainable food system.

According to Jose Antonio Osaba, Coordinator of the IYFF-2014 Civil Society Programme and Advisor to the World Rural Forum, “the most effective way to combat hunger and malnutrition is to produce food near the consumers- precisely what family farming does.” Through local knowledge and sustainable, innovative farming methods, family farmers can improve yields and create a more nutrient-dense and diverse food system.

And family farming integrates two incredibly important, but often overlooked, groups of agricultural producers: women and youth. 

“In many developing countries, women are the backbone of the economy,” explains Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, FAO. “Yet, women farmers do not have equal access to resources and this significantly limits their potential in enhancing productivity.”

Overcoming deep-rooted inequalities that prevent female farmers from gaining rights to access land, inputs, and economic resources will allow them to farm more productively. According to FAO, providing female farmers access to the same resources as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.

And maintaining young people’s interest in farming as a profession is vital to future food security. Today, youth face global unemployment levels of up to 28 percent and many see agriculture as a burden, not an opportunity. But governments, schools and universities, businesses, and international organizations can cultivate the next generation of agricultural leaders by investing in policies and practices that make rural areas and agriculture intellectually stimulating and economically sustainable.

papayaz

Food for thought:  Farmers aren’t just food producers–they are business women and men, teachers in their communities, innovators and inventors, and stewards of the land who deserve to be recognized for their hard work that supports both people and the planet.

Our contribution: We are 2 farmers in Uganda (Laureene and Arnest), who founded Wakulima Young Uganda, a coalition of youth farmers growing fruit. Together, we grow passionfruit, papaya, pineapples, mangoes; and instead of having to jump through the loops trying to find a European buyer, we are committed to find a local market for our fruit along the value chain. We would like to promote healthy meals in schools, and so our first point of entry is supplying packaged fruit to local schools in Uganda. We are also planning to produce fresh fruit juices and dried fruit, depending on the market

Wakulima Young Uganda works with youth farmers, for youth by youth, and supporting family farms mainly operated by youth and women

We are always looking for partners and welcome input and knowledge that can be applied to the project