The Year of Family Farming

By Liz Essman

The United Nations declares 2014 the International Year of Family Farming, an initiative that aims to promote family and community owned farms in order to address human and environmental issues such as food insecurity and natural resource management.



A family farm includes any family-based agricultural activity, including forestry and pastoralism, in which family members provide the main labor supply.  Because this style of food production is the predominant form of agriculture in both developed and developing nations (~70%), shifting the worldview of family farming could spell significant changes in the way we address socio-economic and environmental problems.

The UN states that through focusing global attention on small agricultural operations like these, more humanitarian efforts will join to eradicate hunger, food insecurity, and improve our Earth’s natural resources, protect the environment, and promote sustainable development.

Family farming promotes sustainability by safeguarding the world’s biodiversity, mainly through preventing the loss of seed varieties and native livestock breeds.  Conserving local variations of flora and fauna prevents the loss of biological resources. Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity and increases the planet’s ability to recover from natural disasters.

In addition to supporting sustainability through biodiversity, family farming also encourages people to eat locally.  Local foods use less fossil fuel and produce less green house gas emissions than their industrial counterparts. Although not all local farms are sustainable, often most operate with conservation in mind, and attempt to use methods that ameliorate the environmental impairments done by industrial farms, including lower pesticide use, no-till agriculture, composting, and less reliance on packaging.

The array of benefits from family farming highlights the importance of conservation and protecting our natural resource base. Yet the main recipients of this support are the family farmers themselves, who are out there, often in poverty, growing our food for us.  I would just like to say thank you farmers, and thank you UN for showing the world the importance of local agriculture.


3 thoughts on “The Year of Family Farming

  1. I really love this idea! and I hope that this catches on more in the US. What I’d really like to see is more information on vertical farming to help those with little to no outdoor space to implement this idea as well!

  2. I’m glad to see the UN is openly supporting family farmers, as they are the majority of food producers in the world. However, I wonder how this initiative will actually change the international trade policies that adversely affect small farmers. Currently, the U.S. heavily subsidizes a few grains and floods other markets where farmers cannot complete with the cheap imports. I hope that the UN’s recognition of family farmers will lead to some major policy changes.

  3. I think this is a great start to recognizing more sustainable agriculture–it would also be really neat to see recognition of all the other aspects that pertain to this, including seed saving from generation to generation and, as Angela stated, the complex politics and economics that go into something as simple as growing food for your family.

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