Unleashing the potential of region’s family farmers

Unleashing the potential of region’s family farmers

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Family farmers are leaders in responding to the double urgency facing the Near East and North Africa region today: Improving food and nutrition security, and ensuring inclusive agricultural development while preserving natural resources.

In recent years, the region has been grappling with many challenges that could lead to a serious setback in its progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These include the increasingly unsustainable use of already scarce or dwindling natural resources, especially water; rising hunger and malnutrition; protracted sociopolitical crises in several countries; the impacts of climate change; and economic slowdown, especially due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

These alarming challenges call for a new paradigm for transforming food systems and rural development — one that puts environmental, social and economic sustainability at its center, to ensure food and nutrition security for all. Family farmers should be at the heart of this radical transformation.

Family farmers — including small-scale farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, mountain farmers, and rural women and youth — have the potential to become key agents of rural transformation and sustainable development. They play a significant role in agricultural production, food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources and protecting the environment.

Family farming is the predominant form of food and agricultural production in the region. These farms are responsible for more than 80 percent of agricultural production.

Although family farmers are the backbone of our food system, they also face myriad socioeconomic and other challenges. Many family farmers in the region live in poverty and, paradoxically, many go hungry themselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic is compounding the situation, especially for those operating on a small scale. Temporary movement restrictions hinder their access to markets, while the perishable goods they mostly produce are the most affected. This is unacceptable, for them and for our collective future.

Family farmers create jobs both on and off farms and so contribute significantly to rural economies. But to continue these roles amid numerous challenges, they need our support.

Serge Nakouzi and Dina Saleh

Family farmers create jobs both on and off farms and so contribute significantly to the growth of rural economies. They preserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystems, and use production methods that can help reduce the risks of climate change and enable them to adapt. They pass on vital knowledge and tradition from generation to generation. But to continue these roles amid rapid change and numerous challenges, they need our support.

This is why the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) co-organized a virtual event this week to spotlight the role of family farming in the Near East and North Africa. Participants included farmers and farmers’ organizations from all countries of the region.

Family farmers in the region have enormous potential, but they lack access to resources and services to support their food production and marketing. Infrastructure in rural areas is poor, and the environmental and climatic conditions on which they rely are under threat.

Supporting family farming offers a unique opportunity to address the needs of future generations and to build resilient and sustainable agriculture and food systems. Family farming should be at the center of national and regional development programs. This means offering technical assistance and policies that help increase productivity, place appropriate technologies within their reach, improve their access to land and water, credit and markets, and create an enabling environment for further investments and innovation.

We all have a role to play in fulfilling the potential of family farming — governments, family farmers’ associations and networks, international and regional agencies, the private sector, civil society and academia.

The FAO’s Regional Initiative on Small-scale Family Farming is implementing projects that directly contribute to increasing agricultural productivity and the incomes of family farmers, reducing rural poverty through small-scale agricultural development across the region, with a focus on Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

IFAD has always recognized the potential benefits of investing in smallholder family farmers. It is the only UN specialized agency and international financial institution focusing exclusively on agricultural and rural development and empowering the most vulnerable. Since 1978, IFAD has invested more than $22.4 billion in grants and low-interest loans through projects empowering more than 512 million rural people to support food security and reduce rural poverty, helping to create vibrant rural communities.

In this region, IFAD has focused its operations on family farmers, who are often located in remote and under-resourced areas but can be substantial players in achieving sustainable development.

The UN Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF) and its Global Action Plan provide an extraordinary opportunity. The FAO, IFAD and key partners are introducing a new generation of projects, enabling the policy environment and providing technical interventions tailored to the region. These efforts aim to promote sustainable agriculture and food systems transformation, with family farming at its core.

The 2019-28 UNDFF will make family farming and all family-based production models the focus of interventions, which will contribute to the goals we all share: A world free of hunger and poverty, where natural resources are managed sustainably, and where no one is left behind.

  • Serge Nakouzi is FAO Deputy Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa.
  • Dina Saleh is IFAD Regional Director for the Near East, North Africa, Central Asia, and Europe.
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