A holistic approach to family farming

Closely involved in the implementation of Brazil’s Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) programme which aims to eradicate hunger, FAO’s José Graziano da Silva states that family farmers are an important part of the solution to achieving food security and sustainable development.

In what ways has Fome Zero influenced policies on family farming?

When we started Fome Zero, family farming in Brazil received credit through the National Program on Family Farming (PRONAF), but resources were limited and the interest rates were very high. Since 2003, the government has increased PRONAF funding by 10 times and interest rates have declined to the extent that they have become negative, especially for the poorest farmers. An insurance programme (Garantia Safra) to protect farmers in Brazil’s semi-arid region against the drought has also been expanded. In addition, specific actions to tackle weather impacts were initiated, such as the construction of water tanks for poor rural families. All those policies have helped to boost production. At the same time, Fome Zero worked to strengthen and create new markets for family farmers. This was achieved, for example, through the local food purchase program (PAA). Today, at least 30% of the food bought by public schools for school meals needs to be purchased locally from family farmers. The PAA has been expanded in many Brazilian cities and states to cover not only school meals but also food for hospitals and other public institutions. This has been such a success that is being adapted by African countries through the Purchase from Africans for Africa programme. Back in Brazil, while boosting production and supporting market access, it was also necessary to regulate land tenure and ensure access to land for the poorest families. In 10 years, 50 million ha of land have been allocated to more than 600,000 landless families, and quilombola communities (descendents of runaway slaves) were recognised. A gender approach was also taken from the beginning. For example, task forces provided documentation for women, without which women could not benefit from the new policies. Thanks to this effort, more than 1 million women are now benefitting from different public programmes.

What lessons can be drawn that would be useful for ACP countries in implementing and reinforcing policies to strengthen their own family farming systems?

In order to address family farmers’ needs and enhance their potential, policies should not be implemented by one institution alone. Policies must be multi-sectoral and should not exclusively focus on agriculture or social assistance, but include cash transfer mechanisms and other emergency aid systems. Fome Zero has turned out to be a means to ensure access to food to poor families, apart from supporting family farming programmes, health and nutrition monitoring systems, and local food supply arrangements. In this two-fold approach to food security, one element supports the other and ensures that part of the increased demand for food created by the cash transfer programme, for example, is met by small farmers. This win-win solution is now being implemented by countries that are looking to expand their food security initiatives to include not only agricultural intensification but also social protection. The PAA and other efforts to link family farming and school meal programmes in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are examples of how this can be done.

How should these new priorities be articulated to reinforce family farming in ACP countries?

Family farming projects could be reinforced in ACP countries by means of south-south cooperation. Those partnerships are mutually beneficial, especially among regions that have similar development challenges as well as geographic, climate and social characteristics. FAO is committed to strengthening and channeling exchanges between developing countries aiming to adopt, adapt and broaden best practices that simultaneously promote family farming, food security and agricultural development. FAO is a firm believer in south-south cooperation that is based on solidarity and breaks the traditional dichotomy between donors and recipients. Our role in this process is to facilitate cooperation among member countries. This is an area that we have been working on since 1996 and on which we are now increasing our efforts.

José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO, has worked on issues of food security, rural development and agriculture for over 30 years.

By Bénédicte Châtel and Susanna Thorp Spore

Click here to read the full special issue dedicated to family farming.

Photo credit: Pagina de Agricultura

Spore is the flagship magazine of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). From October 2012, the magazine is managed by Afronline’s editor, VITA.