Family Farming Knowledge Platform

Mountain Farming & Family Farming

Mountain farming is largely family farming. Thanks to its small-scale character, diversification of crops, integration of forests and husbandry activities, and low carbon footprint, mountain agriculture has evolved over the centuries in an often harsh and difficult environment and contributed to sustainable development. Cultivating mountain areas, with their patches of useable land dispersed at different altitudes, with many different climates and limited use for mechanization, is most effectively carried out by family farms. Family farming in mountains is as diverse as the myriad mountain landscapes of the world, but at the same time, there are also commonalities.

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For example, mountain family farms are usually not at the centre of national production in terms of quantity. Most of their production is for family consumption, playing a key role in ensuring household food security. In addition, family farms in mountains help shape mountain landscapes, providing ecosystem services that are vital for development far beyond mountain areas; i.e. provision of freshwater, disaster risk reduction, preservation of biodiversity including agro-biodiversity, and space for recreation and tourism.

Family farming communities associate their lands with ancestral, spiritual and cultural values, and have site-specific knowledge – a precondition for survival in most mountain areas. The motivation of family farmers thus goes beyond profit maximization to include social, cultural and ecological motives.

Accessibility is a key issue in mountain farming, especially in developing countries. This is not only limited to farm inputs – it includes access to basic infrastructures such as health services, schools, roads, transport, markets and communication with the rest of the world. Mountain farmers – like mountain people in general – are often a minority in their countries. Living far away from the centres of power and decision-making, they are often marginalized politically, socially and economically. This is particularly true for communities with livelihoods and farming practices that deviate from global and national mainstreams, such as shifting cultivators or pastoralists, which are both prominent and important in mountain regions. Pastoralists, for example, through mobility use large tracts of marginal mountain lands that would otherwise remain unproductive.

One of the results of marginalization is widespread poverty. Almost half of the rural mountain people in developing countries are vulnerable to food insecurity, and in response many mountain areas are increasingly affected by outmigration. Although those who leave can provide remittances, it also means heavier workloads for those remaining – primarily women, children and the elderly.

Supporting sustainable forms of family farming also promotes food security, a balanced diet and good environmental stewardship. This also recognizes and supports the values and traditions conducive to securing key ecosystem services that are critical for development and that reach far beyond mountain regions. In mountain areas, family farming often remains a last resort occupation while, under the right conditions, it could become the backbone of sustainable development. 


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Sustainable Harvest International

International Organization
Since 1997, Sustainable Harvest International has provided agroecology training to over 3,000 smallholder family farms. Through diversification of crops and ecological farming practices, families improve their diets, income and health, while reversing the degradation of soils, protecting water sources, increasing biodiversity and stabilizing the climate. A local trainer...
United States of America