Wed | Dec 7, 2016

FAO wants to enrich region through family farming

Published:Monday | October 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM
From left: Joel Mowatt, Huntley Longshaw, George Wilson and Lopez Sawyer - peasant farmers from the Chigwell community in East Hanover.
Marlene Jackson (centre) in her dasheen field with Winston Smith (left), extension officer at the Rural Agriculture Development Authority, and two of her workers Sheldon Hill (second left) and Winston Jackson, (right).
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A top official of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has challenged Caribbean governments to address the stark imbalance in the level of remuneration enjoyed by the people who work the hardest to feed the global population but continue to be mired in poverty.

"It is a shame that family farmers are among the poorest households in our countries," Dr Deep Ford, the FAO's sub-regional director, told the recent Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Paramaribo, Suriname.

This year's theme 'Transforming Caribbean Agriculture through Family Farming' is in keeping with the United Nations' declaration of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. It recognises the key role that family farmers play in eradicating hunger and conserving natural resources.

Family farming refers to the collective effort by families working together on a farm in order to sustain themselves through food production, for consumption and income. This concept is strongest in rural communities where the people usually have no other major sources of income or food. These include crop, livestock, forestry, fishing and aquaculture producers whose combined efforts feed most of the world, and who despite years of being engaged in mainly subsistence farming often have little to show by way of improved quality of life or earnings despite their hard work, according to Dr Ford.

Global food supply

"Nearly 80 per cent of the food supply in developing and developed countries is produced by an estimated 500 million family farms. The scale of this contribution is mirrored in Latin America and the Caribbean where family farming accounts for more than 80 per cent of agricultural production and generates more than 50 per cent of agricultural employment," the FAO official explained, going on to recommend a plan of action to redress this grave imbalance.

He argued that in order to correct the situation, the Caribbean must first come up with its own definition of a family farmer, given the diverse range of circumstances under which family farms in the region operate.

"This is necessary so we can implement targeted policies directed at specific family farms (and) includes technologies to enhance productivity, tailored to their specific circumstances, taking into account the people and the environment," he declared.

"We must ensure that the families realise improved incomes and livelihoods and although we have made significant strides, there is much more work to be done to improve the lot of family farmers in the Caribbean."

Dr Ford declared the FAO's commitment to supporting regional and national efforts to achieve, beginning with a detailed analysis to inform policy option, including a vulnerability and resilience component as well as concrete and comprehensive measures to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability.

He insisted that this must include the design of effective social protection systems and would require ongoing and strengthened collaboration with other development agencies, governments, civil society, the private sector and academia, pointing to the potential varied and sustained benefits.

"In addition to being a major supplier of traditional food which contributes to healthy, balanceD diets, family farming provides employment opportunities, preserves and enhances the culture, skills and traditions of local communities and contributes to the conservation of plant and animal species. In the Caribbean, family farming has played and will play a vital role in addressing the two major challenges that almost all our countries face - agricultural revitalisation and the food import bill."