Family farming; need of the day
Prof (Dr) R. D Gupta
The concept of family farming came to fore in, ‘The United Nations high level political forum on sustainable development, created during Rio + 20 Conference which took place in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012’. It was emphasised that the ”practice of sustainability provides the only real bridge from our past to our present and future, and from our planet to our people and prosperity”. The United Nations General Assembly endorsed the document saying ”Future We Want”, in which the importance of farming, small/ marginal farmers in sustainability was recognised stating ”We recognise that farmers, fisher folk, foresters and pastoralists, can make important contribution to sustainable development through production activities that are environmentally sound, enhance food security and livelihood of the poor invigorate production and sustained economic growth”. In the fifth general session of United Nation 2013, the year 2014 was officially declared as the ”International Year of Family Farming”.
Definition of Family Farming
Family farming may be defined as the farming which is usually interchangeable with that of small and marginal farmers. It, however, is not about the size but the way a family manages the multilayered characteristics of the land they own, primarily with the help of the family members having limits of the possibilities to make a living, aspire to achieve a decent life by investing the family resources, work with dedication, passion and hard work to develop and improve the farm ensure livelihood of the family and the farm continuity.
Views of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
By choosing to mark the year 2014, the FAO Director General said that UN recognises ”the family farmers as leading figures in responding to double urgency the world faces today: Improving food security and preserving natural resources”. But strangely enough, they are among the world’s most vulnerable populations, remain highly susceptible to poverty and hunger and require genuine public support, which is non – existent in most of the countries.
Family Farms in the World
Out of 570 million agricultural farms in the world, only 500 are family farms. Seventy four percent family farms are in East Asia and Pacific, thirty five percent in China, nine percent in Sub – Saharan, seven percent in Europe and Central Asia, four percent in Latin America and Caribbean. Ninety five percent European farms are partly family owned and inherited over the generation. Farmers population in USA is about 2 per cent and 80 per cent of them are small and marginal producing 27 per cent of the produce, sold mostly directly to the consumers.
Out of 138.35 million operational holdings in India 85 per cent are owned by small and marginal farmers, cultivating 0.5 to 2.0 ha, covering 44.6 per cent operational area (Agriculture census 2010 – 11, Ministry of Agriculture GOI 2014).
Inter – Generational Continuity
A family farm indicates not only a place of production but also presents a home to the farming family, having link with present, past and future through intergenerational continuity. Not only this, it embodies self respect and pride as a way of life, a wider network of culture and agricultural practices evolved over the period, which contribute to conserving biodiversity and sustainability. Thus, family farming has a link and coevolving unit which combines social, cultural economic and environmental functions, and is a predominant human lifestyle in the world (FAO, 2013).
Presently, because of lack of proper and adequate policies, farmers of the families are unable to render positive contribution even to themselves and the inter – generation link is collapsing. Besides, the development policies are propelling it towards a business like model for better benefits, as the only way to put young people in agriculture sector. This is employing that it should be less ” peasant like”, but be more ”entrepreneurial” and should be subjected to process of modern agriculture which will, however, turn the family farm mere supplier of labour, compromising all other features of sustainability inherent in it.
The underdeveloped countries, however, continue to implement industrial development model for getting better economic return from agriculture and the global integration, marginalise the family farmers. In Mexico alone, from 1992 to 2002, the number of agricultural households fell by 75 per cent, which caused a significant increase in migration from rural areas, especially by small and marginal farmers. This depleted the rural countryside and, thereby, the human resources. It is pointed out that these days Mexico imports food grains from the USA and exports to farmers and agricultural labour.
In India, even in the agriculturally progressive southern and northern states, farming has become economically unviable for small and marginal farmers. The escalating prices of inputs, degradation of soil fertility and water resources accompanied with decreasing margins, have led to an increased farm debt, resulting in farmers suicides. According to the official data, 16, 1694 farmers have committed suicides in India from 1997 – 2006 and farmers declined by nine million from 2001 to 2011 (Maan, 2014). In Punjab, over two lakh peasants, mostly marginal and small, left farming between 1991 and 2005. The number of small farmers was around five lakh which got reduced to around 3 lakh in 2005. It was because they were unable to pay back even short term loans and, thus, involved in debt trap, leaving no alternative to sell or mortgage the land. The humilation due to the distress exit from farming, forced them to take the extreme step of suicide. Such developments culminated in the loss of interest in farming around the rural youth.
Different Strategies to Save the Farmers
To ensure economic sustainability of the farmers and also to prevent further degradation of the natural resources i.e., land and water, the following strategies are required to follow: