Friday, 24 January 2014

Let's Celebrate International Year of the Family Farm!

2014 has been designated the International Year of Family Farming, an initiative promoted by the World Rural Forum and supported by over 360 civil society and farmers’ organizations. This worldwide celebration aims to encourage policies for sustainable development of agricultural systems based on farm families, communal units, indigenous groups, cooperatives and fishing families.

The term “family farmers” is defined as agricultural producers who make the majority of their living by farming.   According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) The International Year of Family Farming honors over 400 million family farms in both developed and developing countries, defined as farms that rely primarily on family members for labour and management.  These farms produce the food that feeds billions of people. In many developing countries family farms make up on average up to 80 percent of all farm holdings.  But small and medium-size family farms are suffering across the world. One bad harvest, a rejected bank loan, or too much or too little rain can drive farms out of business.  The most effective way to combat hunger and malnutrition is to produce food near the consumers, precisely what family farming does.

Farm numbers have been declining steadily in Canada since 1941. The 2006 decline is slower than in 2001, when farm numbers fell 10.7% from the previous census. With increasing production costs and decreasing commodity prices, successful farming increasingly requires a niche market or a large operation with significant capital to remain viable.  Another country wide trend is our aging farmers who are choosing to retire or move to less physically demanding and less capital-intensive "transitional" types of operations, particularly since fewer members of the younger generation are continuing the family farm. 

Why should we care?  Family farms play a pivotal role in enhancing food security. The World Bank estimates that a 1% increase in GDP in the agriculture sector will be twice as effective in alleviating poverty compared to any other sector.  There have been too many years of lack of interest towards agriculture, which has led to a number of issues facing this sector today – the disappearance of many family farms, population migration to the cities and less than thorough government support. The time has come to re-launch farming, and the international Community should not squander the opportunity.
What can we do? Lots!
  1.  Teach our children where our food comes from.  Growing our own food can not only be healthy and educational but is extemely rewarding and self fulfilling.  It doesn't require a lot of space.  Participate in a community garden or explore container gardening.   The internet is full of ideas for urban farming, from container gardens to back yard chickens (check your local bylaws).
  3. Buy local.  Locally grown food is better for your health, for the environment, and is the right choice to support farmers, producers and your local economy. Over the past 20 years, the import and export of food have tripled with agriculture and food now accounting for more than a quarter of the goods transported on our roads. Food is now also the largest component of airfreight, the most polluting form of transportation. Local produce is the freshest produce you can buy.   When we buy a local food product, the producer receives a higher percentage of our food dollar.  Eating locally grown food supports our farmers and protects our precious farmland by keeping itin production.
  5. Start small; it doesn’t have to be 100% .  Learn what local foods are in season and enjoy the freshness and variety available at lower prices.  Think beyond fruits and vegetables and also look for local dairy, meats, seafood, and grocery items. Each month, replace an often-bought imported product with a local product.  Think of imported produce as a treat, not a staple.

  6. Support grocers and restaurants in your area that offer local food.  If your favorite grocer or restaurant does not offer much local food, talk to them about it and ask for.
  8. Many farms have diversified to offer a myriad of family activities such as fish ponds, corn mazes, hayrides, farmstays.  You don't have to go far to find some fun in the countryside.  Watch for farm tours in your local area. It's the perfect way to learn while being entertained.