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Family farmers are crucial to eradicating hunger and achieving sustainable food security and rural development, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN's (FAO) State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2014, ‘Innovation in Family Farming.' The report highlights innovation as key for family farmers to achieve these goals.

FAO16 October 2014: Family farmers are crucial to eradicating hunger and achieving sustainable food security and rural development, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s (FAO) State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2014, ‘Innovation in Family Farming.’ The report highlights innovation as key for family farmers to achieve these goals.

The family farm is the most predominant form of agriculture, according to the report; there are at least 570 million family farms globally, which produce 80% of the world’s food. They are also critical in improving ecological and resource sustainability, according to the report, noting that small farms generally have higher yields than large farms with the same agro-ecological settings in the same countries, although these farms’ high productivity involve lower labor productivity.

The report also recognizes family farmers’ vulnerability to climate change and resource depletion. It describes, for instance, climate-induced threats to agriculture, including increases in temperatures, water shortages, diseases and pests and extreme weather events, while also recognizing agriculture’s contribution to climate change.

“Family farmers need to be protagonists of innovation as only this way can they take ownership of the process and ensure that the solutions offered respond to their needs,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. The report calls for agricultural innovation systems to embrace family farms’ complexity and diversity, emphasizing the importance of education and training to enhance individual innovation capacity. It highlights the public sector’s role in improving agriculture innovation systems and enhancing innovation capacity, and the role of producer organizations in supporting member innovation. It also identifies key components of an enabling environment for family farmer innovation, including good governance, market infrastructure, secure property rights and transparent legal and regulatory regimes.

The report recommends, inter alia: increasing and refocusing public investment in agricultural research and development and extension services to emphasize sustainable intensification and closing labor productivity and yield gaps; and boosting outputs per worker to increase farm incomes and expand rural economic welfare, particularly in low-income countries. It further recommends: improving farmers’ access to land, water, credit, markets and technology; strengthening producers’ cooperatives and organizations; improving farmer participation in value chains; and focusing special attention on women and young farmers.

Emphasizing the diversity of family farms and the complexity of farmers’ livelihoods, the report also cautions against one-size-fits-all recommendations, calling for solutions that build on farmers’ capacities and strengths, respond to farmers’ specific needs and address local context.

2014 is the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), which aims to highlight the role of family farmers in achieving food security and sustainable development. [FAO Press Release] [Publication: The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming] [SOFA 2014 In Brief] [Report Webpage]

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