The role of parliamentarians in strengthening family farming

28/05/2019 - 

As producers of the majority of the world’s food, family farmers not only contribute to food security and nutrition, but also fulfil economic, environmental, social and cultural functions in the areas in which they live. Despite this, family farmers are paradoxically among the world’s most vulnerable and food-insecure populations. The UN Decade of Family Farming, led by FAO and IFAD, is an opportunity to work together to create an enabling environment for family farmers. During the global launch of the Decade, a wide range of stakeholders came together for a three-day period to work on concrete actions to support family farming, which culminated in the launch of a Global Action Plan to support family farmers from the global to the local level.

Within the context of the launch of the UN Decade, FAO organized a roundtable on the role of parliamentarians in strengthening family farming. In order to reach their full potential, family farmers need laws, policies and investments that support them. The roundtable provided a chance for parliamentarians from around the world to engage with each other on how to enact legislation that has the potential to transform family farming.

Parliamentarians from several continents participated, sharing their own legislative experiences and challenges from their own countries. Participants represented both national parliaments and regional bodies, including the Pan-African Parliament, the European Parliament, and PARLATINO, the regional parliament of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Roberto Ridolfi, FAO’s Assistant Director-General for Programme Support and Technical Cooperation, opened the roundtable with a reminder of the opportunity that the UN Decade represents for lawmakers. “[The Decade] is a great occasion to advance the agenda of the Global Parliamentary Summit,” he explained. “This is a good time to elaborate laws and to strengthen and update institutional frameworks.” It was essential to guarantee farmers’ access to financing, he continued, emphasizing that investments must complement laws in supporting family farmers.

Before the parliamentarians began their exchange, Alberto Ercilio Broch, the Vice-President of the World Rural Forum and the Secretary General of COPROFAM, spoke to those assembled about the importance of public policies for family farming, and the importance for the UN Decade for the farmers themselves. He called on parliamentarians, as “guardians of democracy”, to work hand and hand with farmers to create a better environment for family farming.

The discussion touched on a wide range of issues that affect family farmers and can be addressed through legislative and policy changes. These included reducing inequalities between urban and rural areas and between men and women farmers. Several speakers focused on the central role that women play in family farming, calling for measures that would ensure women farmers’ access to land, facilities and technology.

Pablo Gonzalez, the Secretary-General of PARLATINO, spoke of the importance of creating framework laws, such as PARLATINO’s Model Law on Family Farming, which ensure legislative coordination at a regional level while allowing countries to translate the law into national legislation. Evelyn Nawases, a member of the Pan African Parliamentary Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, emphasized that guaranteeing access to land, particularly for indigenous people and marginalized groups, was fundamental to ensure a sustainable future for family farming.

Carmen Quintanilla, Senator from Spain, called for the creation of a global parliamentary alliance that would support family farmers and encourage sustainable development. “More than ever, parliamentarians play a key role in the fight against hunger, in achieving Agenda 2030, and in ensuring the right to food,” she said. “Parliamentarians can transform societies through legislation.”

Kone Dognon, First Vice-President of the Pan African Parliamentary Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and member of the Pan-African Parliament, underlined the critical role that legislation plays in supporting family farmers. With the necessary legal frameworks in place, he said, family farmers would be better able to address challenges such as land-grabbing, the effects of climate change, gender inequalities, access to financing, markets and technologies, and ensuring generational succession in farming.

Teresa Calix Raudales, Member of the Parliament of Honduras and Sub coordinator of the Parliamentary Front against Hunger for Mesoamerica, spoke of the experience of farmers in her own country, where coffee is the main crop but where coffee producers themselves are increasingly impoverished. Honduras has recently proposed a law to improve the livelihoods of family farmers, which will complement an existing law on school feeding. The new law intends to guarantee farmers access to a secure market and strengthen their contributions to the food value chain. In socializing the law, Honduras involved a range of stakeholders, including farmers, municipalities and cooperatives, to ensure that it would have a significant impact for those who were most impoverished.

In closing the session, Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships at FAO, emphasized family farmers’ key role in achieving the SDGs and noted that any support to family farmers must take a holistic, multi-sectoral approach. “Family farming is central to the SDG Agenda,” she stated, “[but] parliaments are also central to development, as they address issues of equality.”