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The FAO called for a dialogue on family farming in Europe and Central Asia

The FAO invited on 11 and 12th of December around one hundred experts to have a dialogue on family farming, in preparation of the International Year of Family Farming launched officially on 22 November 2013 and which will be fully running in 2014.

Organised in three sessions, the first day aimed at discussing the role of family farming and its importance, at debating then on the most adequate policies to provide a favourable environment to family farmers and finally at reflecting on the role of cooperation for these farmers. The second day was dedicated to work in groups on the concrete organsiaton of the year for the European and Central Asia region.

A citizens campaign launched in 2008

The meeting provided an opportunity to tell a bit the story of this international year of family farming, initiated maybe for the first time, by a civil society campaign of impressive dimension launched and coordinated by the World Rural Forum, an international NGO based in the Basque Country. The World Rural Forum managed to federate around this campaign more than 360 organisations throuhgout the world. It was the government of Philippines who finally proposed the IYFF to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The decision was made in 2011. For five years already people have been working on this process which aims at putting agriculture and family farmers on the top of the world policy agenda.

Civil society organised in a World Consultative Committee

The movement is now structured on civil society side, represented by a World Consultative Committee coordinated by the World Rural Forum and which assembles representatives of different continents (For Europe the European the Union of Small producers of Spain and the French Association for International Development). All campaign resources are accessible on-line on a dedicated website “familyfarmingcampaign.net”. The movement encourages the setting-up of national initiatives called “National Committees” which take different forms depending on countries. 45 have already been structured or are being formed. The forum has prepared guidelines on how to create them.

At institutional level, a steering committee managed by FAO

On instititional side, FAO has been mandated by United Nations to coordinate the implementation of this international year. An International Steering Committee has been created with also representatives of different continents or “regions” in the meaning of United Nations with 12 States and several international organisations, including the European Union which is co-chair of the committee.

The International Committee has adopted a Master plan which defines the concept and the roadmap. A dedicated website has also been created.

A broad concept seeking to assemble

The issue of the definition still generates a lot of debate: what is family farming? Is it a question of size? Of employment structure? Of production model? Of values?

For the International Steering Committee which has adopted an approach “family farming includes all family-based agricultural activities, and it is linked to several areas of the rural development. Family farming is a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour, including both women’s and men’s. Both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector.

Participants debated on these issues throughout the first session. They confirmed that size is not a relevant discriminating factor as what is big or small very much depends on the country where you ask the question. The structure of employment, decision-making processes, are however seen as more relevant. Many see also in family farming a concept which carries some values, a way of life and a way to be in the territory, producing in synergy with nature. Borders are therefore still quite blurred. Elaborating a recognised typology could be one of the interesting actions to undertake during the year.

An important agriculture facing challenges: which policy responses?

Family farming is submitted to numerous challenges such as:

  • generation’s renewal: how to facilitate it?
  • diversification modes and need to operate diversification while reconnecting to the environment
  • access to land, water and credit
  • distorsion of power inside the food supply chain and the need to rebalance with fair prices, direct sales, branding and promotion strategies
  • the need to recognise the role of women

In front of these challenges, needs for policy change regard firstly the global environment, which conditions international trade and consumption patterns. Then family farming is confronted in some cases to excessive regulations and in other cases to insufficient legislation or policies. Family farming requires specific policies and a particular status which cannot be the same than corporations. It should benefit from a dedicated budget. Measures should not oversupport big farms through payment by volume of sales. Payments should be capped and finally derogations to some regulations which are not adapted to small farms should be provided.

The issue of land grabbing and access to land has been heavily discussed. Succession rules applying to land transmission has also been pointed out as requiring change to achieve interalia greater gender equality. The need for support to research and innovation for this specific type of farming has been highlighted, as well as the need for quality and promotion policies. An entire session has finally been dedicated to different forms of cooperatives.

Different visions between the EU and Central Asia

In the context of the European Union, discussion was a little bit confused. The concept of family farming as it was adopted by FAO covers indeed the great majority of European agriculture. The debate on adapted policies is therefore more or less the debate on the CAP, a CAP that has just been approved. IYFF discussions should therefore concentrate on which type of farming we want in Europe for the future.

For other countries however, candidate countries to the EU, members of the Commonwealth of Independant States (former USSR) or Caucasus countries, which are part of the “Europe and Central Asia” region, the situation is very different. Agriculture is still very scattered, producers organisations are few, cooperation is seen negatively because of the communist past and the voice of family farmers is not very structured, even less heard. Many of these countries are very mountainous. The IYFF brings an opportunity to try to create a process aiming at helping producers to structure and strengthen their voice and get the government to consider them as interlocutors in policy making.

What’s next?

Several meetings and conferences are foreseen to celebrate the IYFF in different countries especially in Bucharest,  Budapest, Rome… We will keep you informed regularly.

What about mountains?

The Mountain Partnership has published a document entitled “Mountain farming is family farming” on the occasion of the international mountain day on 11th December 2013.

Several Euromontana members are also undertaking activities. Switzerland has for example communicated its dedicated website: http://www.familyfarming.ch/fr/

Euromontana will take advantage of the IXth European Mountain Convention to contribute also to this theme by reflecting on a better organisation of mountain supply chains.

What about you? If you work on this theme in connection with mountain development let us know!

20 December 2013

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