The International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers: Unlocking the potential of agricultural innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Unlocking agricultural innovation for family farmers worldwide is key to achieving a Zero Hunger world


World-class experts on agricultural innovation meet at FAO to provide advice to the Organization on the upcoming FAO International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers

As the world faces today unprecedented global challenges that affect the sustainability of food and agricultural systems, family farmers remain essential to achieving food security and nutrition. Agricultural innovation could be the key to unlocking their potential to guarantee healthy, accessible and affordable food for a growing population expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050. Furthermore, hunger remains an everyday challenge for humankind: 815 million people are still chronically undernourished.

18 global experts on agricultural innovation coming from different backgrounds and perspectives agreed on these pressing issues on a two-day meeting held in Rome at the Organization of the United Nations for Food and Agriculture (FAO).

“Paradoxically, family farmers are often poor and food insecure themselves. In low-income and lower-middle-income countries, small family farms are particularly important for reaching food security,” explained Hans Dreyer, Director, Plant Production and Protection Division, FAO Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, about family farming, which is the most predominant form of agriculture in the world.

Agricultural Innovation for family farmers

In this context, many developing countries are still unable to harness the full potential of agricultural innovation, which, according to Samy Gaiji, Head, Research and Extension Unit, FAO, “is about bringing products, processes and forms of organization into use for the first time; therefore it is about change and daring to change in order to improve people’s lives.”

Dreyer added that agricultural innovation is critical to achieving the productive potential of family farmers, especially in small and medium-sized family farms that occupy a large share of farmland and produce much of the food in low and middle-income countries.

FAO gathered world-class experts in agricultural innovation in an advisory panel set up to provide advice and guidance to the Organization for the upcoming International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers, which will take place on 21-23 November in Rome this year.

During their meeting, they built a strong consensus that agricultural innovation can be the central driving force that lifts family farmers out of poverty and helps the world achieve food security, sustainable agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals. World-class experts provided advice on the structure of the Symposium and the list of topics to be discussed.

Beyond technology

Common ground was also made with regard break that wisdom saying that innovation is just about technology. According to FAO representatives, innovation goes beyond technology, which on its own may simply remain on the shelf. And perhaps most importantly, they say, it is also about social, economic, institutional/organizational and policy processes, having an impact on the lives of family farmers. “Agricultural innovation is much more than drones and smartphones,” said Gaiji.

Innovation Symposium

The International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation will be “a direct and firm response from the Organization to member countries’ enthusiastic encouragement for FAO to play a strong catalytic and supporting role to empower family farmers through innovation,” explained Dreyer.

The Symposium is conceived as a dynamic multistakeholder and multidisciplinary forum aimed at understanding the socio-economic potential of innovation, its key drivers and processes, and impact pathways through exchange of knowledge, information and practices. It will also review enabling policies and platforms, pave the way for the development of potential partnerships and action plans, and act as a catalyst to promote investments, which are fundamental to sparking innovation, as it is stated in the Symposium’s concept note.

In order to achieve this, advisory panel members brought to the table views from FAO member countries, research and academia, civil society and farmers’ organizations or the private sector from all over the world to guarantee that the Symposium delivers its mission.

In a rich discussion, experts talked about a number of topics such as the importance of looking at the whole value chain; creating the enabling environment (also at policy level) that encourage farmers to take the risk that involves innovation; ensuring that farmers’ knowledge is captured; developing capacities; and linking family farmers to markets while ensuring that they are not financially excluded.

Innovation Fair

The Symposium will also celebrate inspiring innovation and innovators success stories through an Innovation Fair, which will display successful examples of agricultural innovation for family farmers and/or by family farmers. They will represent the over 500 million family farms estimated to exist in the world according to FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture 2014 report.

The symposium will an important preparatory event for the United Nations Decade of Family Farming 2019-2028.

More information

Frequently Asked Questions for The International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers.