Family farms are vital to world food security, says FAO report

UN organisation urges public sector to develop family farming as a sustainable source of the world’s food needs

By Jemima Rohekar
Published: Friday 17 October 2014

Photo: Agnimirh Basu

Ninety per cent of all farms in the world are managed by families, making them potential agents of change in achieving food security, according to a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on Thursday.

Since family farms produce around 80 per cent of the world’s food, the report, titled State of Food and Agriculture 2014, urges the public sector to develop them as a solution for eradicating hunger. More than 800 million people continue to remain chronically hungry, not from the shortage of food but because they cannot afford to eat adequately.
Family farms are also key to ecological sustainability since they hold access to 75 per cent of all agricultural resources. They are vulnerable to the effects of resource depletion and climate change.

Source: FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture 2014

The report recommends that family farms must innovate to meet the world’s food needs, protect the environment and their own productive capacity as well as explore livelihood diversification to combat poverty and hunger. Many small farms are often unable to produce enough to provide for the families.

"In all cases, 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," FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in an official press release. "Family farming is a key component of the healthy food systems we need to lead healthier lives."

Farm facts
  • More than 500 million family farms produce most of the world’s food
  • 84 per cent of the world's farms are less than two hectares in size
  • Farms larger than 50 hectares occupy two-thirds of the world's agricultural land. These include many family farms
  • In most low- and lower-middle-income countries, small and medium-sized farms occupy most farm land and produce most of the food
  • Small farms produce a higher share of the world's food relative to the share of land they use
  • Much of the world's food production involves unpaid labour by family members
  • Farm sizes are becoming increasingly smaller in most developing countries

The UN report asks the public sector, working with farmers, civil society organisations and the private sector, to improve innovation systems for agriculture. Innovation and information sharing networks must be incentivised for farmers, researchers, advisory service providers and integrated value chains.

Policy makers must also take into account the size of family farms, technologies used, integration into markets, as well as their ecological and socio-economic settings to determine what farmers need from an innovation system, says the report. It insists on public sector investment in agricultural research in areas such as orphan crops (vital but neglected food crops) and sustainable production practices, among other recommendations.

The State of Food and Agriculture 2014: Innovation in family farming

Global food security index 2014: an annual measure of the state of global food security

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