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A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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29 November 2013


Expectations of the United Nations and FAO for the
2014 International Year of Family Farming


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join you in this celebration of the United Nations International Year of Family Farming in the European Commission.

FAO is honored to coordinate the International Year, taking forward an idea proposed in 2008 by the World Rural Forum.

The International Year has since gained many supporters. And I want to acknowledge the commitment of the European Union with family farming and its active participation in the International Steering Committee for this year.

Working together, I am confident this year will be a success.

Today’s event brings family farming together with resilience and sustainability.

They are very closely linked, indeed.

The International Year recognizes the role family farmers play in food security and nutrition and sustainable development.

Family farming is the main form of agriculture worldwide.

There are over 400 million family farms in the world. And in a FAO sample of 93 countries, they make up on average 80 percent of all holdings.

Differently from large-scale specialized farming, they usually run diversified agricultural activities which help preserve natural resources.

Family farmers have, over generations, preserved and perfected many practices and technologies that can support agricultural sustainability.

For example, through innovative land management techniques family farmers have consistently succeeded in maintaining production on often marginal lands.

They recover and preserve traditional food crops, safeguarding biodiversity and contributing to healthier and more balanced diets.

Look at quinoa, kept alive for centuries, cultivated by indigenous farmers in the Andes and celebrated in 2013 in the International Year of Quinoa.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Worldwide, family farmers provide food, employment and income for billions of people.

At the same time, let’s not forget that over 70 percent of the food insecure population lives in rural areas of developing countries. They include family farmers, especially subsistence producers.

In fact, not too long ago, family farmers were often seen as the subject of social policies and not as productive actors.

They were considered part of the hunger problem. This is the mindset we need to change with the International Year of Family Farming.

Family farmers are not part of the problem. They are part of the solution for food security and sustainable development.

And when I say farmers, I include smallholders and medium scale farmers, as is the case here in Europe, as well as peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional communities, fishermen, pastoralists, collectors and many other groups.

We need to help them fulfill their potential.

In the framework of this International Year, we are organizing regional dialogues to improve our understanding of family farming.

The European dialogue will complete this cycle in December. And today we will have a preview of some of the issues that affect family farming in Europe and were raised in the online consultation on the subject.

Common needs have emerged from the regional dialogues that already took place, pointing to areas in which we should support family farming.

I will highlight five of them:

First, technical assistance and policies that support the production and productivity increase of family farms;

Second, placing appropriate technologies within their reach;

Third, improving their access to land and water, credit and markets;

Fourth, creating an enabling environment for further investments; and

Fifth, strengthen family farmer and smallholder associations cooperatives and other organizations.

The regional dialogues have also highlighted the importance of placing women and youth at the centre stage.

Rural women are the backbone of family farming and rural families throughout the world. They need to be empowered and recognized as key actors for rural development.

And the youth represent the future of farming. We need to incentive them to keep farming. The family guidance and knowledge transmitted between generations are priceless and would take decades to substitute.

Allow me also recall the importance of guaranteeing the tenure rights of family farmers.

In this regard, let me mention the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, approved in 2012 in the Committee on World Food Security.

These Guidelines help safeguard the rights of people to own or access land, forests and fisheries. They will directly benefit family farmers all over the world. If they are implemented.

And I want to congratulate and thank the European Union and the European Commission for helping implement them.

I would also like to highlight the positive impact that family farming has on local development as a whole.

Family farmers play a pivotal in role local production and consumption circuits, not simply in fighting hunger but also by creating a variety of jobs, and stimulating local economies.

Family farming helps generate a virtuous circle and is the basis of rural development in many countries.

In fact, Europe has a rich tradition in family farming and valuable experiences to be shared. The International Year of Family Farming offers an opportunity for this exchange.

And recognizing the contribution that Europe has to give, I am pleased to say that Mr. Gerd Sonnleitner accepted to join the International Year as Special Ambassador for Family Farming.

He will be officially nominated at the European Regional Dialogue this December and join a team of Special Ambassadors representing different regions of the world.

At the official launch of the International Year in New York last Friday, we already welcomed aboard Mrs. Mirna Cunningham from Latin America and the Caribbean, and Mr. Ibrahim Coulibaly from Africa, who is with us today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Each one of us here has an important part to play in helping family farming fulfill its potential and make this International Year a success: governments, the private sector, research and academic institutions, international agencies, civil society and non-governmental organizations, and farmer associations themselves.

We have four key objectives we want to accomplish during the International Year of Family Farming:

First, support the development of policies conducive to sustainable family farming;

Second, increase knowledge, communication and public awareness;

Third, attain better understanding of family farming needs, potential and constraints and ensure technical support; and,

Fourth, create synergies for sustainability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Support to family farming has already been fundamental in enabling many countries to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal before 2015.

It can help many more and have a positive effect that will carry over to the post-2015 period.

Our future depends on equitable, efficient and sustainable agriculture and food systems.

These systems greatly depend on vibrant and prosperous family farming sectors in all regions of the world.

Let’s take the opportunity of this International Year of Family Farming to achieve these goals together.

Thank you very much for your attention.