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Family farming

Family farming includes all family-based agricultural activities, and it is linked to several areas of rural development. Family farming is a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour, including both women’s and men’s.

Both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector.

FAO's role in family farming

Family and small-scale farming are inextricably linked to world food security. Both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector. Family farmers carefully manage their lands to sustain remarkably high levels of productivity despite having less access to productive resources such as agricultural inputs and support (most research shows an inverse relationship between land size and productivity).

Family farming preserves traditional food products, while contributing to a balanced diet and safeguarding the world’s agro-biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources. Family farmers are the custodians of a finely adapted understanding of local ecologies and land capabilities. Through local knowledge, they sustain productivity on often marginal lands, through complex and innovative land management techniques. As a result of the intimate knowledge they have of their land and their ability to sustainably manage diverse landscapes, family farmers are able to improve many ecosystem services.

Family farming represents an opportunity to boost local economies, especially when combined with specific policies aimed at social protection and well-being of communities. Family farmers have strong economic links to the rural sector; they contribute strongly to employment, especially in developing countries where agriculture still employs the majority of the labour force. In addition, the incremental income generated by family farming is spent on housing, education, clothing etc. in the local non-farm economy.

How to strengthen family farming?

To realize the full potential of family farmers in eradicating hunger and ensuring food security, an enabling policy environment is necessary. This includes greater recognition of their multiple contributions, as well as an acknowledgment and reflection of these in national dialogues and policies. Fundamental first steps are for countries to articulate their national definitions of family farming, and collect data on the agricultural sector that recognizes and organizes farmers’ contributions systematically.

At national level, there are a number of factors that are key for a successful development of family farming, such as: agro-ecological conditions and territorial characteristics; access to markets; access to land and natural resources; access to technology and extension services; access to finance; demographic, economic and sociocultural conditions and availability of specialized education among others. Targeted agricultural, environmental and social policy interventions in support of family farmers are necessary in order to make tangible changes and sustainable improvements.

The International Year of Family Farming

The United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in collaboration with Governments, International Development Agencies, farmers’ organizations and
other relevant organizations of the United Nations system, as well as relevant non-governmental organizations, is facilitating its implementation with the following objectives:

  1. Support the development of agricultural, environmental and social policies conducive to sustainable family farming
  2. Increase knowledge, communication and public awareness
  3. Attain better understanding of family farming needs, potential and constraints and ensure technical support
  4. Create synergies for sustainability

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