Do not romanticize family farming

Food Security07 Dec 2009Rudy Rabbinge

The most important assignment of agriculture is to ensure that there is enough food for the people in this world. Family farmers can play an important role if you consider and embrace the dynamics of this group. I always find that work on marginal farms is very hard. Weeding and ploughing for a meagre crop is not romantic, but pure poverty. We have seen in many places that small-scale farmers do improve their production if you promote knowledge and innovation, such as green revolution technology. The application of agro-chemicals has greatly improved yields when applied appropriately. Yet, new generations have ambitions for other types of life: in the decades to come, many farmers’ children will move to cities or find other forms of employment. If you ignore this process, it will get out of hand, but you can also embrace it and mitigate the side-effects.

Small-scale farming has a reputation as being good for the environment, but in fact a lot of small-scale farming affects the environment badly. Poor farmers have no means to buy external inputs so they exhaust the soil. The consequent dwindling production again results in farmers producing less and becoming poorer. In my view, environmental degradation is not only a result of richness, but very often due to poverty, and poverty reduction should be the overarching objective of policies. As a society, you can choose to promote or to hamper changes in small-scale farming. The worst thing you can do is romanticize poor farming lifestyles and consolidate their underlying structures: that will result in consolidating poverty.