By Richard Grubb
At the beginning of the year the United Nations announced that 2014 is to be the International Year of the Family Farmer (IYFF). In an announcement that made clear the importance of small-scale family farms in both the developed and developing worlds, the announcement highlights the potential family farmers have to eradicate hunger, preserve natural resources and promote sustainable development.
In India, 615 million people are reliant upon agriculture of which 418 million are small farmers. Family farms constitute 81% of total agricultural holdings in the country and 60% of agricultural production comes from these family farms. In the surrounding areas of Jamkhed where CRHP has been working for more than 40 years their importance is particularly acute. Being an agrarian community, the vast majority of villagers that CRHP works with are intrinsically involved with family farming. Having lived and worked through the past two years of drought, their economic vulnerability has been crudely exposed.
In a recent study, CRHP found that 100% of farmers interviewed in the three blocks surrounding Jamkhed had been negatively affected by the drought. More than two thirds of these family farmers are now relying on work as laborers to supplement their diminishing farm incomes and only 30% of farmers are currently deriving more than 50% of their income from their farm. Life as a family farmer in rural Maharashtra is becoming increasingly unforgiving.
While certain models of development have confidently predicted the demise of the family farmer, their importance in the present should not be miscalculated. Beyond the clear economic importance, family farming has a key role to play environmentally too. Besides being a source of genetic agro-diversity, family farming can ensure the preservation of forgotten seed varieties through the use of native seed varieties and native livestock breeds well adapted to various environments. Family farming also has a major role to play in the empowerment of women. Indeed, women make up nearly half of agricultural labor in developing countries, contributing a significant proportion of the agricultural labor force. While the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates this figure at 43%, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) estimates it between 60-80%.
Despite their importance both economically and environmentally, the value of family farms has been routinely ignored by policymakers. Incomes of family farmers are not in tune with increases in the prices of agricultural inputs and barely a third of the price paid by the consumer is reaching the farmer. Inadequate access to natural and basis resources for production, markets, value addition and processing are responsible for uneconomic conditions of family farmers. The knock-on effect of this is a growing feeling of disillusionment amongst young family farmers. A national sample survey report found recently that 40% of farmers, including young, are of the view for switching over to other livelihoods if an opportunity comes, since farming is not remunerative to them. According to The Hindu, suicide rates among Indian farmers were 47% higher than the national average in 2011. In Maharashtra, the state that CRHP works in, the rate was 160% higher than the national average, excluding farmers. So there is much need to focus efforts on the family farmers.
With the announcement of the IYFF by the UN an opportunity has arisen for civil society to work hand in hand with mainstream policy makers to ensure better conditions for family farmers. Polices that work to improve livelihoods and halt growing disillusionment amongst young farmers can be affected, and meaningful change can be achieved. At CRHP we are firm supporters of the IYFF and over the next year we will be demonstrating as much in our renewed efforts at our demonstration farm in Khadkat. Without family farmers environmental conditions will worsen and food security will become increasingly precarious. It’s time to stand up for the family farmer and lend them our support.