World Food Day: Innovation Must Support Family Farmers
The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) welcomes a new UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report in its call for the design of agricultural innovation systems that recognize the importance of family farmers and supports them in innovating and achieving sustainable productivity increases.
The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming, released by the FAO on World Food Day (October 16), focuses on how to promote innovation among family farms to achieve sustainable food security and poverty alleviation. It says promoting innovation in family farming should be a priority for policy makers and that family farmers need to be more fully involved.
GFAR Executive Secretary Dr Mark Holderness says the report is timely, and endorses the Forum’s focus on small holder and family farmers as the core of agricultural research and innovation systems.
“There are more than 500 million family-owned farms around the world, contributing more than 80 percent of the world’s food supply (SOFA 2014). They are under huge pressure to produce more, but with limited access to water, land, energy and other resources.”
 “GFAR partners are deeply committed to meeting the development needs of resource-poor farmers,” Dr Holderness says. “What is required is an agricultural innovation system that recognises farmers themselves as innovators, and that better reflects their needs and interests in guiding agricultural research and innovation processes nationally, regionally and internationally. Such a system must also better connect public and private sectors, civil society and farmers and their organizations. Strong and inclusive partnerships between research, education, extension and enterprise services are essential elements.”
Year of Family Farming
In this, the UN “International Year of Family Farming”, the Global Forum has facilitated and supported a host of initiatives focused on the contribution of family and smallholder farmers.
The Forum has joined forces with Food Tank to raise awareness of the challenges faced by smallholders and to identify ways to support family farmers. Together they are promoting these by publishing new research, articles, editorials, newsletters, social media campaigns, and videos.
The need for knowledge and innovation to achieve greater resilience was discussed at the International Encounters on Family Farmers and Research meeting in June, co-organised by Agropolis International and GFAR with participant support provided by GFAR. Around 250 participants, from farmer groups, civil society organizations and national and international research institutions, discussed ways to collaborate and research agendas dealing with the challenges of global change including food security, urbanization, human mobility and migrations, nutrition and health, and climate change.
The GFAR-supported training materials on Farmers Rights in regard to plant genetic resources, was launched at the Encounters meeting. These innovative training guides were prepared with farmer and civil society organizations in Guatemala, and have now resulted in changes in national policies to better reflect Farmers Rights. This approach is now being rapidly scaled-out in Latin America and Africa.
GFAR partners have also taken part in a number of important meetings throughout the year looking at family farming issues, including the International Food Policy Research Institute 2020 Conference, which aimed to strategize how to promote food and nutrition security by increasing smallholder resilience. More than 800 participants from 75 countries met, as part of a two-year global consultative process, to help development agencies ensure smallholders have the resources they need to endure economic, political and environmental crises.
The application of information and communications technology (ICT) in agriculture to family farming was discussed at the Agrifuture Days 2014 International Conference held in Austria in June, of which GFAR was a major sponsor. Continuing the theme, the e-Agriculture Community of Practice  has hosted two major e-discussions on ICTs and Family Farming in recent weeks:  Communication for Development, community media and ICTs for family farming and rural development, and an e-debate on Youth Sustaining Family Farming through ICTs on Ardyis. GFAR is a founding partner of e-Agriculture.
GFAR partners also participated in The Asian Farmers’ Association (AFA)  General Assembly in Indonesia during the year. AFA is a major voice for family and smallholder farmers on the Steering Committee of GFAR and represents 17 farmers’ organizations from 13 countries in the region. AFA members called for continued engagement with other partners in GFAR, to deliver change towards greater agricultural innovation in Asia, home to over 60% of farmers and most of the world’s population.
Giving farmers a voice in international policies and actions is vital. GFAR’s support has directly enabled the active participation of smallholder farmers and civil society organizations at the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, launched at the UN Climate Summit in September. The Forward Thinking Platform, facilitated by GFAR, will provide a space for discussions with farmer organizations on how to progress farmer-led, farmer-managed grassroots foresight initiatives which emerged from the 2nd Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2).
Supporting and facilitating these kinds of meetings and exchanges is core to the work of the GFAR which has, among its strategic objectives, the building of consensus and strengthening of advocacy for action on agricultural research and innovation priorities, the promotion of global and regional partnerships for collaborative research and innovation, and the improvement of knowledge and communication of agricultural research and innovation.
Photo credit: ©FAO/Caroline Thomas