Research & Extension

Agricultural Innovation in Family Farming

Rural communities in developing countries face increasing challenges related to their livelihoods and food security, the deterioration of natural resources, the impacts of climate change and volatile food prices, among others.

Most of these challenges can be addressed through innovation. In fact, innovation has a high potential for increasing agricultural productivity and farmer's income, and consequently reducing poverty, improving food security and facilitating the transition towards more sustainable production systems.  

However, many developing countries don't have sufficient capacity to innovate and to fully realize the potential of agricultural innovation in family farming. Their research systems, extension services and other knowledge institutions need to be stronger and better connected with farmers and their organizations. 

To achieve this goal, FAO works to transform the Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) of its member countries. AIS is defined as "a system of individuals, organizations, and enterprises focused on bringing new products, processes and forms of organization into social and economic use to achieve food and nutrition security, economic development, and sustainable natural resource management". Like any system, it encompasses the different stakeholders or actors as well as the linkages between them. 

In December 2011, the UN General Assembly declared 2014 to be the International Year of Family Farming and invited FAO to facilitate implementation of the International Year, in collaboration with its partners. Among its initiatives for the International Year, FAO has published a major study on family farming and agricultural innovation systems (AIS) in 2014 as part of its State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) series.

As part of its initial preparations for this major study, FAO has organized two events. The first was an Expert Consultation on AIS and family farming that took place at FAO Headquarters on 19-21 March 2012. For the Consultation, about 40 participants from 14 countries, consisting of invited experts and FAO staff from Headquarters and its regional offices, provided guidance and inputs on developing the major study, specifically covering areas such as the state of agriculture innovation and key issues and gaps in knowledge on agriculture innovation. A highly participatory approach was used throughout the three-day meeting to encourage full engagement of participants in discussions.

The second consisted in an e-mail conference on "Ensuring the full participation of family farmers in agricultural innovation systems: Key issues and case studies" which took place from 4 June to 1 July 2012. The conference built on the results of the Expert Consultation and allowed a discussion with a wider and more global audience focusing on: the issues that determine whether family farmers can fully participate in, and benefit from, AIS; the key opportunities and hurdles for family farmers to engage in, and benefit from, AIS; and what policy-makers can do to increase potential opportunities and remove potential hurdles.

All messages posted during the e-mail conference are available here

Related publication to family farming:

  • Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on the International Year of Family Farming, 2014 (available in all six UN languages)
  • FAO Medium-term Strategy Framework for Cooperation in Family Farming in Latin America and the Caribbean 2012-2015 (Available in English and Spanish)
  • Information Document 144/INF/7 on International Years (including the International Year on Family Farming) submitted to the 144th Session of FAO Council, 11 - 15 June 2012 (will be available in all six UN languages)

Making Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) Work for Development in Tropical Countries

Two members of FAO's Research and Extension Unit have co-authored  an article published on the journal "Sustainability". The paper provides a summary of the results obtained from three regional needs assessments of..... Read more



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