A populous nation like India, by far, predominantly rural and farm based, is confronted by dual realities – prosperity and poverty.
On one hand, according to the Business Today, India is ranked 15th among the nations with 175 millionaires and on the other it is ranked 63rd in the Global Hunger index 2013 and 136 in the Human Development Index 2013, way off from achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The growing inequities are, however, not limited to developing economies like India. Serious inequities are threatening developed nations too as pointed out by Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in his path breaking publication – The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society endangers our Future.
Small farmers are becoming increasingly vulnerable owing to several factors, many of which are not under their control. On the farm front, stagnation and declining yields, rapid ecological degradation and impacts of climate changes are felt both in rainfed as well as in irrigated areas. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is also sending caution signals of extreme climate events threatening the South Asian rural livelihoods, the economies and the ecologies.
On the brighter side, with the declaration of 2014 as International Year of Family Farming, there is global attention on the viability and contribution of family farms for a better and equitable society. Serious efforts are being made by international institutions and Governments to ‘zoom in’ on how Family Farms can be strengthened. (KVS Prasad, p.30). There are efforts being made to relook at IASSTD study (2008), FAO, IFAD, and IFOAM studies (2009-12), UNCTAD’s (2013) reports, prepared by a large cross section of renowned experts. They point out that ‘more of the same’ doesn’t work.
Another new emerging dimension is explicit recognition of the multifunctional benefits of agroecological approaches. There is an increasing recognition that ‘diversity’ and ‘context specificity’ is the key feature of small holder ecological farms offering a range of benefits – accessible and affordable quality food; diverse incomes; their potential to minimise harmful global emissions. Benefits such as reduced dependence on subsidies, better nutritional access, and healthier life styles are also being foreseen.
We are extremely happy to include perspectives of Olivier De Schutter, special rapporteur to the UN saying “small-scale farmers can double food production within ten years using ecological methods…“. He also reiterates, “Industrial farming on large plantations will not solve hunger or stop climate change. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and in raising their incomes so as to contribute to rural development. To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” (p.5).
Articles in this issue highlight that poverty and vulnerability could be addressed in several ways – by making farming resilient through adoption of biodiverse integrated farming systems (Purnabha Dasgupta et.al., p.20); improving control and reducing dependency on external sources for basic resources like seed (Biswamohan Mohanty, p.28), organising village communities for enhancing access to resources like seed and credit (Pradan, p.31 and Annie Bergman, p.35), collective farming and collective access to land by women (Landesa, p.12), institutionalisation and networking for improved access to services (K Subramanian, et.al., p.9) and promotion of local social enterprises (Pramel Gupta, p.15).
However, the challenges still remain. Can Family Farms be understood, better and deeper? Can the differential needs and abilities of farming communities (eg. small holders in developing countries, women and youth etc.) be recognised and suitable strategies devised?. As Dr. R. Dwarakinath, Chairman, AME Foundation, puts it “It is high time that the distinction between the necessary conditions (prerequisites for development) and the sufficient conditions (farmers’ abilities to avail the opportunities) in development, be recognised.”
IYFF is just a window, which opens up possibilities for focussed attention for a sustainable future and healthy living.