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Edith van Walsum
Director, ILEIA – Centre for learning on sustainable agriculture
The Netherlands, 02-04-2015

Small-scale family farmers hold the key to global food security

  • With a more inclusive, diverse and decentralized food system supported by appropriate policies, the world’s 500 million small-scale family farmers can play a much greater role in achieving global food security.
  • Under the right policy conditions, their locally adapted, climate resilient practices can better respond to the needs of local and regional markets, and can adequately feed growing urban and rural populations now and into the future.
  • Dutch government policy should encourage the role of small-scale family farming, but this will require a shift away from the current emphasis on industrial agriculture and global value chains, as the main solutions to the problem of food insecurity.

Seventy percent of the world’s food insecure people live in rural areas in developing countries; paradoxically, many are small-scale farmers or agricultural labourers. And whereas many think of them as merely ‘scratching a living’ from subsistence agriculture, together they produce an incredible 70% of the world’s food, and they have the potential to produce more. We must recognise that small-scale family farmers are  more productive than large-scale industrial agriculture.

The development sector is making efforts to include small-scale producers into global value chains, but evidence suggests that ‘inclusive business’ schemes along formal value chains benefit only a narrow minority of farmers. Many also collapse once external support is withdrawn. Yet, informal trade flourishes, being less risky and more accessible for small-scale farmers, but often outside or on the margins of state regulation or the influence of large businesses.

The role of small-scale farmers is becoming more crucial as the world faces increasing challenges. We need ecologically sound and climate resilient farming systems that provide nutritious food and meaningful employment to more people. As experiences in our Farming Matters magazine clearly show, there are solutions, but which need to be rolled out. Policies can support the upscaling of successful initiatives , such as the Brazilian Public Procurement Programme which links 160,000 small food producers to public institutions including schools, reaching 15 million consumers.

Many young people are leaving the countryside, but from our work, we also see the emergence of a new generation of ‘modern peasants’,  stewards of their soils and biodiversity, and producers of healthy foods for regional markets. In deciding how to promote inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda, we must ask how to better include and support these young farmers, the food producers of the future.

Policies must address the following priorities  if they are to include  the needs of small-scale farmers,  especially women and young farmers:

  1. Guarantee secure and equitable access to land, water, seeds and other natural resources.
  2. Invest in rural infrastructure and storage facilities.
  3. Encourage sharing of agroecological practices through training and  farmer exchanges.
  4. Facilitate the expansion of appropriate and flexible credit facilities.
  5. Offer spaces for farmer organisations (including women and youth) to participate meaningfully in policy making regarding agriculture and food.
  6. Ask rural communities how markets can work for them, rather than trying to ‘make markets work for the poor’.

Similar recommendations were also highlighted in the outcomes  of the 2014 International Year of Family Farming (IYFF). During the Global Dialogue on Family Farming  FAO’s Director General José Graziano da Silva summarised the insights gained when he said:

Where family farming used to be seen as a problem, it is now seen as part of the solution”.


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Promoting inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation

This contribution is part of a consultation for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how to promote inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation.
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Consultation partners

Commissioned by:

Ministery of Foreign Affairs


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The Broker




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