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Enhancing the contribution of family farmers to sustainable development


New York - Family farmers need enabling public policies and legal frameworks that will “allow them to adapt and flourish in today’s changing environment” and maximize their contribution to sustainable development, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today.

He made the remarks at the launch of the UN Decade of Family Farming on the sidelines of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York.

The event saw the participation of the heads of FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which co-lead the implementation of the Decade, co-organizers Costa Rica and France, as well as La Via Campesina, the World Rural Forum and the World Farmers’ Organization among others.  

“We need to reform our food systems and link the activities of the Decade of Family Farming with the Decade of Action on Nutrition. Family farmers are the ones that produce healthy foods. They can save us from the epidemic of obesity, and we need them for healthy diets,” Graziano Da Silva said.

“The UN Decade of Family Farming provides excellent opportunities for countries to formulate policies to support family farmers in an effort to leave no one behind. Costa Rica is committed to promoting the Global Action Plan to implement strategic collective, integrated measures to help countries reach their national goals," said Epsy Campbell Barr, Vice President of Costa Rica, in her opening remarks.

 “To improve the productivity of family farming, France is promoting agroecology and public research. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to transform our agriculture and food systems towards sustainability,” said Thomas Lesueur, General Commissioner for Sustainable Development at the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, France.

"With just over 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, all of us here today are determined to make our world a place where no one is left behind," said Gilbert F. Houngbo, IFAD President. "In practical terms for the Decade of Family Farming that means helping farmers to take a food system approach to ensure their families have a healthy diet and their agricultural pursuits are sustainable for the planet. This also means investing in rural women and young people, not only in training and financing, but also in infrastructure and technology."

“In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger, and to provide healthy and nutritious food for everyone, family farming must be based on agroecology and food sovereignty, embracing small scale food producers including fisher folks, pastoralists, forest people, waged workers and indigenous communities,” said Zainal Arifin, a member of the International Coordination Committee of La Via Campesina.

“We as family farmers reaffirm our commitment to participate in the entire implementation process of the Decade, collaborating as protagonists with traditional knowledge that contributes so much to the reproduction of healthy and sustainable food systems; food and nutrition security and sovereignty, sustainable development; and to fight hunger, poverty and climate change,” Alberto Broch, Vice-President of World Rural Forum.

“When farming models are multi-functional, they can generate additional benefits in terms of employment, environmental protection and provision of community services, enhancing transparency and sustainability in food production,” said Veronica Barbati, President of Italy’s Coldiretti Young Farmers’ Organisation and a representative from the World Farmers’ Organization.


Paving the way towards the implementation of the Decade

Family farms represent over 90 per cent of all farms globally and produce 80 percent of the world's food in value terms.

Noting that although family farmers are a very diverse group and there is no “one size fits all” approach, the FAO chief highlighted two key common measures that will help pave the way towards the implementation of the Decade: “First, FAO and IFAD have established a multi-donor trust fund. FAO has already allocated some seed money to promote better dialogue and exchange between farmers on public policies,” he said.

Secondly, he urged countries to make progress in developing their National Action Plans, based on the FAO-IFAD Global Action Plan, launched in May. “This way FAO and IFAD will understand better the demands and processes of each country,” he explained.

Family farmers as key drivers of better nutrition

The FAO-Director-General also expressed his concerns about the growing levels of malnutrition. “We have to urgently address the alarming and growing levels of obesity and micronutrient deficiencies. This is happening particularly in populations that consume poor-quality diets based on commodities with little dietary diversity,” he said.

He cited the high-consumption of ultra-processed food as another key driver of the prevalence of obesity. “Ultra-processed food in particular contains little to no nutritional value, with a high content of saturated fats, refined sugars, salt and chemical additives but, unfortunately, it is cheaper and easier to access and prepare than fresh food, particularly for poor people in urban areas,” the FAO chief said.

In this context, Graziano da Silva noted that family farmers could also play a vital role in increasing the production and consumption of healthy and diversified fresh food and thus improving people’s diets.

“We intend to link the activities of the Decade of Family Farming with the current UN Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025,” he added. “This way we can fight malnutrition from different perspectives, combining the production of nutritious food with the adoption of healthy diets.” 

Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet

In his remarks, Graziano da Silva also stressed that the world can no longer rely on the agricultural innovation model that resulted from the Green Revolution of the 1960s.

“High-input and resource-intensive farming systems have increased food production at a high cost to the environment, generating deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion, and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The FAO Director-General called for a transformative change towards food systems that produce healthy and nutritious food while safeguarding natural resources. “Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet,” he concluded. 

The side-event “Launch of the UN Decade of Family Farming (2019-2018): synergies and main contributions to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” provided an opportunity to promote a dialogue between family farmers, governments, UN agencies and non-state actors to mobilize actions at global, regional, and national levels to support the transformation of food and agriculture systems for better nutrition.