World Food Day puts focus on family farming

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2014 - It's World Food Day and this year the spotlight is on the family farm, which the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says is central to solving global hunger.

To mark the occasion, the results of a new survey of 75 North America family farmers was released today at the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa. The survey, led by Humanitas Global in collaboration with FAO and Food Tank, demonstrates that North American-based family farmers remain committed to family farming, despite the challenges that exist, the groups said in a news release.

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The survey results and our conversations with farmers reinforce a deep affinity for family farming, but they also show that farmers are torn between a love for the land and trying to make ends meet,” said Nabeeha M. Kazi, president and CEO of Humanitas Global and chairman of the Community for Zero Hunger. “For those who no longer work the family farm, the importance of feeding their communities and the world remains very much part of their identity.”

Some 79 percent of survey respondents who have left the family farm said they remain involved in agriculture in their current careers.  In addition, a majority of those who have left the family farm said they intend on returning in the future.

“We do not want the universe of family farmers to shrink, and we must have policies, programs and resources to enable family farmers to stay on the farm if they desire to do so and perform at their potential,” says Kazi.  “However, we also cannot overlook the power of those who have left the farm. These individuals have tremendous and highly credible voices as we promote and protect the family farm. We should deploy them to inform policy, shape programs and amplify the story of the family farmer in diverse spaces.” 

The greatest challenges for family farmers today include the cost of land, labor costs, government regulations and policies, climate change and the inherent risk of farming, as well as the disproportionate amount of work required given the financial returns, the groups said.

“The survey results show that family farmers do not rely on farming alone to pay the bills,” says Kazi. “Approximately 67 percent of respondents to the survey said that a family member's income or additional part-time work supplements income from farming.”

So what are the positive aspects of family farming? They include a connection with the land, independence and working outdoors. Those who grew up and remained on farms, and those who left farms to pursue other careers, and new family farmers all spoke of tending to the land and watching food grow as the most fulfilling aspects of being a farmer.

The Borlaug Dialogue, named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, the “father of the Green Revolution,” is referred to as the “premier conference in the world on global agriculture.” A highlight of the conference is the presentation of the World Food Prize, which this year goes to Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram. He is being honored for his scientific research that led to a more than 200 million ton increase in world wheat production.

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