Family Farming Expo: a learning experience for family farmers and for FAO

Farmer, Elisabetta Monti on farming in Trentino and the role of local committees in the promotion of the family and small-scale farming model in Italy.

Over the next three weeks FAO is hosting a small family farmers' market in the atrium. Products for sale include pulses, cereals, honey, biscuits, jams, olive oil, pickled fish, vegetable pâtés, dried fruits and many more. The families and cooperatives involved come from all over Italy and have different stories to tell.

The market is a great opportunity for FAO to learn more about local Italian small-scale and family farming directly from the farmers themselves and for the farmers from all over Italy to have valuable contact with FAO technical departments and each other.

One of the farmers here last week, Elisabetta Monti, told us about her family's farm, La Fonte Folgaria in Trentino. This self-sufficient traditional organic farm produces various products including infusions, dried fruits and vegetables, herbal and aromatic salts, herbal remedies (typical flowers/herbs from the Trentino region) as well as milk, eggs, wool and meat.

In her spare time Elisabetta is also an active member of the Trentino Committee in Support of the 2014 International Year of Family Farming ('Comitato Trentino di Supporto all' Anno Internazionale dell' Agricoltura').  This local Committee was born out of the Italian National Committee in Support of the IYFF whose aims include the promotion of a new model for the development of communities and farmer cooperatives, safeguarding biodiversity and above all ensuring a more equal and broad distribution of family and small-scale farming products.  The Italian Committee will act as spokesperson with the Italian authorities to favour the family and small-scale farming agricultural model by advocating for Italy to play a more active role with Rome-based and other international institutions in the area of agribusiness. The Italian Committee is also backing the National Campaign for small-scale and family farming, which is in turn advocating for a framework law specifically focused on small-scale farming.

The sub-regional Trentino Committee focuses on local realities and tailor-made solutions in the Trentino area (each region has its own set of challenges). Elisabetta explained that the Committee's effort is concentrated primarily on three areas:

1. Communication is focused on educating consumers about the choices and responsibilities they have when buying products and the effects these choices have on our health and on the environment as well as on other people and countries. In addition to this, communication strategies underline the importance of food sovereignty, the right of people to define their own food systems.

2. Legislation - Cutting of red tape and simplifying the bureaucratic process for very small-scale farmers must form an integral part of the framework law on small-scale and family farming.

3. Data collection is a fundamental first step in pushing for change. Policies and laws can only be formulated and subsequently implemented when specific data becomes available. Currently, the Trentino Committee is gathering data on abandoned private and public land which was once cultivated. The idea is to gather detailed data and, based on this, advocate for the redistribution of this land to young family farmers.

Elisabetta added that these local committees, known as 'tavoli locali' (local tables) are growing in Italy. They are pushing for change but also demonstrate a key point: the importance of community engagement and empowerment which are key to improving the conditions of small-scale farmers in Italy and across the globe.

The farmers' market provides the perfect setting for a spontaneous exchange of ideas and information between FAO and local farmers. Elisabetta mentioned that the visit had been fruitful in many ways.

Speaking to the communications team, she learnt more about the 2014 International Year of Family Farming website and the wide array of communications resources available in the IYFF communications toolkit as well as the possibility of linking local material relevant to her farm and the Trentino Committee in the 'From the Field' section of the website.

Elisabetta is also hoping to gain information on successful small-scale farming legislation and policies in other countries. This may be useful for leads in the proposal for the framework law that the Italian National Campaign is advocating for; she is particularly interested in the cases of France and Brazil.

Ms Monti was also in touch with a member of staff from the Forestry Department specialized in non-wood forest products, something she works with everyday. He provided her with the names of key FAO publications that recognize the importance of wild herbs and fruits, valuable information that, she said, will be useful in her farming work.

The possibility of direct contact between FAO and small-scale and family farmers is extremely valuable to both parties. It was a pleasure to see delegates and FAO staff members mixing and chatting with family farmers over their tasty produce. As Elisabetta said, this should be the first of many FAO farmers' markets, something that could, perhaps, be repeated in FAO headquarters and in Regional Offices with farmers from other parts of the world.

Each farmer has his own story to tell and there is something to be learnt from each and every one of these stories.