Being the proud daughter of parents who both were raised on farms in Eastern Europe, I was pleased to learn early in the year that the United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) to highlight the importance of family and smallholder farmers. Throughout the year, organizations like Food Tank joined with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and over 360 civil society and farmers’ groups in celebrating the role these farmers play.
According to the FAO, of the more than 570 million farms in the world, more than 500 million are family farms. With the world population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, FAO stresses that family farms can play a key role in scaling up food production to meet the needs of a growing world population. In fact, FAO dedicated its annual report to agricultural innovations in family farming.
The Institute of Food Technologists also put the spotlight on agricultural innovations with its FutureFood 2050 program, which highlights the people and stories leading the efforts in finding solutions to safely feed these nine billion people. The program includes interviews with agriculture pioneers who are mixing and matching technology, both old and new, to boost agricultural production sustainably in the years ahead.
However, in order to accommodate the needs of a growing population, government also needs to support more new and young farmers entering the field of agriculture.
Noting that the global average age of farmers is 55, the Food Tank created a petition calling on government officials to provide more resources, aid, and infrastructure to make farming economically viable and environmentally sustainable for a new generation of farmers and food system leaders.
“Increased access to education means that young people can be a force for innovation on family farms, increasing incomes and well-being for not only farmers, but also local communities,” says Mark Holderness, executive secretary, Global Forum on Agricultural Research. “Young people can develop the agricultural sector by applying new technologies to current work methods.”
Both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector. The IYFF emphasized that we must do more to support these farmers, especially young farmers. As the Food Tank points out, the future of farming depends on younger generations—people who see agriculture as an opportunity and something they want to do rather than something they feel forced to do.