Taking advantage of the Decade of Family Farming

It seemed like a rare opportunity to bring agriculture to the fore when, in 2014, the United Nations’ General Assembly declared it to be the International Year of Family Farming.

At the time, it said the declaration was to “raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming by focusing world attention on its significant role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources and protecting the environment.”

The UN has a significant agriculture awareness. In recent memory, it also declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, and announced 2020 will be the International Year of Plant Health.

These one-year campaigns are helpful for profile purposes. But the causes they represent may fall off the global radar screen once their 365-day declaration ends.

To that end, sometimes the UN dedicates an entire decade to matters it considers exceptionally vast, deep, meaningful or fragile, something it considers weighty enough for a longer run. Recent examples include ocean health and African descent.

And now, taking its place among this hallowed group is agriculture.

The UN has declared 2019 to be the beginning of the Decade of Family Farming, recognizing 570-million family farms globally, and what it calls “the world’s biggest employer.”

The UN wants the Decade of Family Farming to serve as a framework for countries to develop public policies and investments to support family farming. That’s more than a one-year pursuit. In particular, it underlines how family farms help achieve the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, especially those related to food security and nutrition.

“Considering family farmers’ central role in improving nutrition, ensuring global food security and safeguarding the world biodiversity, and the fact that they are nevertheless victims of poverty and hunger, the Decade of Family Farming will increase the visibility of rural women and men and the need of specific public policies to eradicate rural poverty, and realize family farmers’ full potential for food security,” it says.

The question that comes to mind is how to take advantage of these next 10 years of heightened profile and capitalize on its intent.

A couple of things come to mind. I’m sure readers have more ideas, but here’s a start:

  • Seize the opportunity. That may sound obvious, but it’s unlikely another such decade devoted solely to family farming will be declared in most people’s lifetimes. Don’t let this one get away or let it run out of steam after its initial radiance wears off.
  • Use it as leverage. Canada is a multi-cultural, global nation. Overall, it will want to be part of such an international effort, to be included in a movement in which it can validate its investment in agriculture, particularly federally, and further explain how family farms contribute so significantly to the GDP.
  • Use it to educate. The UN says family farming produces about 80 per cent of the world’s food, on 70-80 per cent of the available farmland. That figure is significantly higher in Canada, where family farms are said to account for as much as 97 per cent of all farms. This is not a widely understood statistic in Canada, where activists have convinced the public “factory farms” are taking over the country.
  • Put it in perspective. UN membership consists of many countries where family farmers are “smallholders” and the main producers. Accordingly, you see a great deal of significance put on farmers who, by Canadian standards, have very small operations. Putting family farms in perspective for Canadian consumers is vital for promoting a greater understanding of agriculture’s real needs. Yes, we too have “smallholders,” family farmers who are filling niches and appealing to select consumers in popular, high-profile settings such as farmers’ markets. But these are not the Canadian family farmers who are producing the volumes needed to propel the economy and meet the bigger needs of the country, not to mention exports.
  • Provide examples.  According to the UN, family farmers are “key actors” in preserving agro-biodiversity, building communities, guaranteeing food security and nutrition and wellbeing. Certainly Canadian family farmers fill these roles and can be profiled doing so, by conventional or digital media. Consumers seem to want more food production stories, so use the UN’s own descriptions of family farm traits as a basis for communicating Canadian farms’ many attributes.
  • Profile women. The UN warns that there will be no strengthening of family farming, and no achieving sustainability goals, without women empowerment and gender equality. In many countries, most farmers are women. In Canada, more and more women who work beside their life partners on the family farm are declaring themselves farmers.

Having this year declared the start of the Decade of Family Farming also gives an opening to bring more eyes on the struggles of Canadian farmers dealing with one of the most challenging planting seasons ever. The UN declaration gives agriculture an opportunity to introduce discussions around topics like climate change and mental health that are all part of family farming and raging, especially this year.

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