UN touts family farms as key to sustainable future

UN touts family farms as key to sustainable future

By Luke Vargas   
Published
A family farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Flickr photo: Donald Kautz
A family farm in Lancaster County, Pa. (Flickr photo: Donald Kautz)

UN agencies will spend the next decade pushing countries to connect family farms with social services, financing and greater market access.

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. kicked off a Decade of Family Farming on Wednesday, praising small farms as key to a sustainable future and pushing governments to connect them with social services, financing and greater market access.

“I think a Decade of Family Farming is a really important focus for the U.N. right now.”

Liz Carlisle is a lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.

“Many of the people growing the food in this world right now are family farmers, and I think sometimes we forget that — we focus on larger-scale farming or really high-tech farming.”

U.N. data shows more than 80 percent of the world’s farms are less than 5 acres in size, but Carlisle says too often U.S. policies in particular favor industrial-scale operations.

“There is still a lot of subsidies that essentially go straight to big agribusiness and the major commodities like corn and soy, which of course is most of what we see grown in vast swaths of the Midwest.

So how do we move some of those subsidies into giving our public support to the things that have public benefit?”

Those benefits include the role family farms play in preserving water quality, promoting biodiversity and connecting communities with healthy foods.

While governments can help by tweaking crop insurance programs and promoting farm turnover between generations, consumers can pitch in by supporting shorter food supply chains.

“In the U.S. a lot of times food changes hands many, many times, travels a lot of miles between the farm and the fork or the plate, and as a result farmers don’t get much of that food dollar — it ends up going to the processor, the retailer.

The advantage of short supply chains is you’re more likely to have a relationship between the producer and the consumer and you can see an opportunity for more of that food dollar to actually go to the producer, rather than getting siphoned off into processing — which tends to not be very healthy for us anyway — or by these large retail chains which are quite aggressive on price. It’s very difficult for farmers to make money selling into those kinds of markets.”

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