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A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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5 March 2014


Global Forum and Expo on Family Farming


My dear friend Sándor Fazekas, Minister of Rural Development,

Your Excellencies Ministers with us today,

International Year of Family Farming Ambassadors,

Civil society and private sector representatives,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by sharing with you a special message from the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon, for this event.

And I open quote:

“I am pleased to send greetings to the Global Forum and Expo for Family Farming.

This Forum lets us recognize the important contribution made by small- and medium-scale farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists to sustainable development and meeting the Zero Hunger Challenge, which seeks to eradicate hunger through sustainable food systems.

I commend the Forum’s focus on the three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and environmental.

Family farms harmonize all three aspects and, in the best instances, enable the principles of sustainable stewardship of land and fisheries to be handed down to succeeding generations.

One of the principal requirements of sustainable food systems is resilience in the face of environmental and economic shocks. Climate change is exacting a heavy toll on agricultural production and rural livelihoods with increasingly frequent extreme weather, such as drought and floods. 

Family farmers face particular risks, since they are more likely to rely on vulnerable ecosystems.

Enabling smallholders to adapt through climate-smart agriculture is one of the areas where I hope to see progress in the Climate Summit I am convening on 23 September in New York.

This year is the International Year of Family Farming.  It calls for commitments from every stakeholder. 

Governments can empower family farmers, especially women and youth, by creating policies conducive to equitable and sustainable rural development. 

This includes better infrastructure to reduce the amount of food lost after harvest when small-scale producers are unable to store, process and transport their goods. 

Agricultural research and extension agencies can tap into traditional knowledge to tailor appropriate technologies. 

And public and private lenders can provide vital financial services, such as access to credit and insurance.

The private sector can also promote accountability and social and environmental responsibility throughout the value chain from farm to fork.

I encourage all actors to support family farmers and take up the call to action to meet the Zero Hunger Challenge.  Let us enable every man, woman and child to enjoy the right to food and adequate nutrition within our lifetime.”

End quote.


That was the message from the Secretary General to us, here today.

Let me now complement what he said by reaffirming the relevance of celebrating the International Year of Family Farming that FAO has the honor to coordinate on behalf of the UN system.

In 2014, for 12 months, we will put a spotlight on people that are key for food security in most of the countries in the world, but, at the same time, among the world’s most vulnerable population.

For many years, family farmers were seen as part of the problem of hunger. 

Family farmers are, in fact, not a problem but part of the solution to hunger. We are here to show that to the world. And we are also here to give back them the pride of being who they are: family farmers.

I wish to give a special thanks to the Special Ambassadors on Family Farming that are with us today..

They have offered inspiring leadership amongst farmers and fishing people in their own countries and communities, and will now be equally effective on the world stage.

I want to emphasize that when we speak of family farming, we speak of many people that over the years have relied on family labor and traditional, sustainable practices to produce food and support food security.

The IYFF - and this Forum and Expo in particular - is waking people up to this immensely important role that family farmers, fisher folk, forest-dependent people, pastoralists and traditional and indigenous communities play in all our lives.

A recent study of 93 countries shows that family farms account for over 90 percent of all farm holdings.

Apart from producing a high proportion of the food we eat, family farmers are by far the biggest source of employment in the world.

They also manage most of the world’s farm land - including as much as 63% here in Europe.

Family farmers are also the guardians of the world’s agro-biodiversity and of a large part of the natural resources – soils, water, forests, fish stocks – that will be needed by future generations for their survival.

In fact, they embody the paradigm of sustainable agricultural development that we need to produce food and preserve the environment that the Secretary General just reminded us about.

We are very conscious of the key role that family farmers will play in their achievement – especially in our work towards the eradication of hunger; in making the shift to more sustainable and inclusive food production systems, and in reducing rural poverty.

Many people question whether we can count on family farms to continue to meet most of the food needs of the world’s growing population.

We in FAO are very much aware of their vulnerability to the processes of globalization.

We worry about the rising threats to their traditional access to land, posed by insecurity and land grabbing.

Thankfully, we are not the only ones concerned. And we are not only watching the events unfold in front of our eyes.

In 2012 the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) approved the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure. They are now being implemented with the support of FAO in some 50 countries, half of them in Africa.

The CFS is now negotiating the Principles on Responsible Agricultural Investments. Together, they will set the ground rules that ensure that investments are sustainable and respect the rights of rural communities.

I want to emphasize the importance of these two instruments. And I can explain it simply: large private sector investments in agriculture exist and will continue, whether we like it or not.

So it is paramount that there is a common understanding on how to invest in ways that are sustainable and protect the rights of family farmers and poor communities.

The voluntary guidelines and the principles on investment provide this guidance.    

Ladies and gentlemen, in order to better understand family farming, we have conducted 5 Regional Dialogues in the framework of the International Year.

Later this morning the detailed conclusions of these dialogues will be presented and discussed. You will see that two main characteristics emerge from these dialogues.

There is a common understanding of the challenges that family farmers face and a common set of ways that we can support them reach their potential.

And, at the same time, family farmers are unique. They have different faces and different customs in each region, in every one of their trades – farming, fishing, pastoralism and so forth.

For now, let me highlight three of the common traits and needs identified.

First, family farming is a way of life centered on sustainability, the respect of biodiversity and a strong linkage with local food habits and markets.

Second, they recognize the importance to group themselves in producer organizations and cooperatives. That gives them a strong voice and empowers them not only from the political point of view, but also economically.

And, third, governments should adopt explicitly pro-family farming policies that are tailored for their needs.

Let me draw on the experience of Brazil to give you an example of how governments can support family farming in an environmentally sustainable, and socially inclusive way.

Fishing is closed down in Brazil in certain periods of the year to protect species in their breeding periods.

But artisanal fishermen and women depend on what they catch to survive. 

Usually, fisher folk already have alternative ways to make a living. What Brazil did was to complement their coping strategies with social protection.

So, when fishing is suspended they become recipients of a cash transfer program.

There are many ways to support family farmers. There is in fact a menu of possibilities, but there is no single silver bullet.

Each country, each region, needs to find the solutions that best respond to their specific needs and culture.

At the same time, there are many successful experiences around the world that can inspire other countries into making the jump that is needed to fulfil the family farming potential.

My dear friends,

The International Year of Family Farming only lasts for one year. But if we succeed in achieving the goals we set for this year, I can assure you that we will continue, always, to respect and listen to what family farmers do and to retain them at the center of all our activities in the future.

Family farmers are crucial to make reality the dream of a hunger-free and sustainable world.

Thank you for your attention.