International Year of Family Farming

by: Jose Rene C. Gayo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
January 5th, 2014

“With the launch of the United Nations International Year of Family Farming 2014, IFOAM is calling for concerted action to support and strengthen family farming. Smallholder farmers grow 70 percent of the world’s food, but 50 percent of the world’s hungry are small farmers. Climate change induced weather extremities such as droughts, floods, destructive rains and winds threaten their farms and livelihoods. Organic agriculture and other agro-ecological models provide science-based solutions to these challenges and can bring prosperity to family and small farmers.”

This is the text of International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) in its latest release. The Philippines is represented in IFOAM by the Organic Producers and Trade Association.

The UN General Assembly declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. This worldwide celebration has these aims:

To promote active policies in favor of sustainable development of agricultural systems based on farmer families, communal units, indigenous groups, cooperatives and fishing families;

To strengthen the legitimacy of rural and farmers associations; and,

To increase awareness of the importance of supporting Family Farming as a sustainable and effective way of producing food and as a comprehensive development of the rural areas.

Led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it has the objective of raising the profile of Family Farming. It will do so from the perspective of effectively combating poverty and hunger, providing food security, promoting rural development models based on the respect for environment and biodiversity, and improving livelihoods.

As a result of this celebration, the following are hoped to be achieved:

  • Recognition by the United Nations, international organizations and national governments of the role of Family Farming.
  • Greater social and political recognition of peasants, shepherds, traditional fisherfolk, and native organizations as partners of government in development.
  • The creation, enlargement or strengthening of national and international platforms for developing policies and strategies for a sustainable future for Family Farming.
  • The provision of substantial budgets aimed at providing better and greater infrastructure and services in rural areas.
  • Progressive empowerment of the status of peasant women and creation of supporting tools directed at obtaining credit, ownership of land, etc.
  • Legal framework which regulates and promotes the ownership of land in its different forms in an effective manner and which also makes access to land ownership easier for farm laborers.
  • Increase in training programs for enhancement of skills in order to enhance rural employment, especially among young people.

The importance of Family Farming in the Philippines cannot be overstated. A great majority of our 5.7 million farms are family owned and operated. Most of these are still engaged in subsistence farming and families are merely eking out a living to keep body and soul together.

In many cases, they are situated in fragile environments and ecosystems better suited for other types of agriculture. I am referring here to the system of kaingin or swidden farming.

In some family farming communities, traditional crops like rice, corn, sugarcane, coconuts are cultivated as monocrops that provide very little income to these families. Usually, they are way out of reach of farm extension workers because of lack of roads and other infrastructure needed to bring their products to the market.

All told, they are disadvantaged to say the least. But should they continue to be such? Is there a way to lift them out of poverty?

One of the global initiatives to address the poverty problem of farmers is the family farm schools. As the name implies, it is a school that fosters the idea that a farm can be a family business enterprise and not just for subsistence production. Thus, these schools train children of farmers to be agripreneurs, farm supervisors, and as future farm managers.

This is done in a unique type of curriculum where time spent in school for academics (say one week) is alternated with time spent on the farm for on-the-job training (say three weeks). The idea is for the students to apply right away what they have learned in school in the context of their own family farm and to find ways and means on how to improve their “business.” This is called the alternánce system that originated in France.

The curriculum follows the regular DepEd prescribed program. But on top of it, the students are also given additional subjects in agriculture, business and entrepreneurship. A strong work values program is also given stress by assigning each student a tutor who serves as a guidance counselor. Parents are also given regular feedback and consultation on the progress of their children by the tutor. Thus, the education offered in the family farm schools is holistic.

The third aspect of these schools is the responsible association. The family farm association attached to the school is composed of parents, local civic leaders, businessmen, and alumni.

The association helps the school in crafting the curriculum, especially in the setting of themes or special subject matter relevant to the circumstances of their community.

The fourth aspect is community development. The original idea behind the family farm schools is to provide education to young people so that they learn how to identify opportunities in their own community for work or livelihood.

Doing so, they can help in bringing about development in their communities and rural areas. This way, they need not leave their community in favor of the cities in search of the proverbial greener pastures.
Fortunately, this type of education has found recognition in the Philippines after 25 years of existence. President Aquino signed the Rural Farm Schools Law last Sept. 3. This will now make the Family Farm School and its variations a regular program of the Department of Education.

It’s about time we have schools focused on providing the needs of the rural areas and making them progressive communities. The new law also recognizes the importance of Family Farming in our economy. Family Farming may bring millions of Filipinos out of poverty and provide food security for the country.

(The author is a member of the MAP Agribusiness and Countryside Development committee, project manager of the Farm Business School project of MAP and dean of the MFI Farm Business School.

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