Agriculture, Food and Beverage

Why family farmers are the key to global food security

Helianti Hilman
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Agriculture, Food and Beverage

For the first time in it history, the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations explicitly and globally recognized the importance of family farms as part of the solution to its hunger program. The year 2014 was named the International Year of Family Farming. Family farming is considered important because it is inextricably linked to world food security. It also preserves traditional food products while contributing to a balanced diet, safeguards the world’s agro-biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources, and represents opportunities to boost local economies.

This campaign was music to the ears of those who have been promoting and protecting smallholder farms. But how to make family farming deliver on such potential? Reality shows us that smallholder farmers are mostly and merely making a subsistence living and have minimum or no opportunity to grow beyond that. How do we go about it?

By outsmarting the constraints and limitations.

Small land plots are one of the major obstacles for family farmers to grow sufficient produce for food and income. In addition, farmers are exposed to many risks from crop failures, perishability, and selling-price volatility. An entrepreneurial approach and attitude must be introduced, which will enable the farmers to:

  • Come up with creative ways to solve problems. This includes growing vertically (mimicking urban farmers to overcome limited space), optimizing plots by selecting plants suitable for different light requirements, choosing crops with high value, and extending economic life by creating added-value products.
  • Avoid investing in one basket. Just like investors, farmers should avoid monoculture. Polyculture is the only way for farmers to minimize risks from crop failure or falling prices and to improve cash flow within different harvest cycles.
  • Creatively minimize costs and optimize income. Just like corporations, farmers must find ways to minimize costs and optimize income. Costs can be minimized if farmers move away from consumptive agriculture (buying seeds, fertilizers, pesticides); instead, they must produce such inputs from locally available raw materials. Choosing high-value crops and creating added-value products can optimize income.
  • Use entrepreneurial principles. Just like entrepreneurs, farmers must find ways to stand out from the crowd through the uniqueness and quality of their produce, products, services, and branding to make them excel. Smallholder farmers must focus on delivering unique, high-quality produce and products and on telling their stories.

Is all of this realistic? Yes. Many farmers undertook such avenues and excelled. Now the question is how to spread the virus of entrepreneurship to all farmers? It is up to the strong believers in and supporters of family farming as the global solution to build the entrepreneurial capacities of smallholder farmers.

This post first appeared on Medium. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Helianti Hilman is the founder and CEO of Javara (PT Kampung Kearifan Indonesia).

Image: Wheat is seen in a field near the southern Ukranian city of Nikolaev. REUTERS/Vincent Mundy.

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