India, which is more than billion populous, is grappling with growing inequities, rural poverty, hunger and malnutrition. With majority livelihoods being farm based, supporting family farming is not a ‘primitive’ strategy but a necessary one.
World is being repeatedly warned through several independent studies that food crisis is imminent and industrial agriculture models are either stagnating or failing. They have been suggesting that small holders and ecological agriculture are the key strategies to realise multiple objectives – food and nutritional security, improve rural livelihoods and ecological stability. This is reflected in the recognition of 2014 as International Year of family Farming by United Nations with the support of several countries.The assumed trickle down effect of benefits through prevalent economic growth strategies is not happening enough, while raising inflation and accentuated climate changes are pointing out that future challenges are tougher to handle. There is a belief that corporatisation is the mantra, with choices, control and access to resources shifting away from farmer’s hands. Also, doles and subsidies are being highlighted as solutions. While they do provide some relief, to a limited extent, they are in fact a short term measure, a ‘band-aid’ strategy.
In this contextual realities, does family farming offer some solutions? How is it being practiced – how it can be supported further, are the key questions. In India, traditionally, farming has been family based and majority of them are smallholders. The success of family farming lies not in ‘specialisation’ but in practising farming to meet diverse household needs rather than market opportunities alone. This edition illustratively brings together perspectives, practices and few innovations which highlight different dimensions of family farming.
“Family farming is a way of life” – there are unique advantages – the security of access and control over resources, meeting multiple needs of the family – food and income, the relationships with nature, the bonding with the past, present and future; ensuring freedom from external exploitation as well as freedom to do your own way. (Jan Douwe, p.5). It is believed that Family farming can have a significant role to play in eradicating poverty, ensuring sustainable management of natural resources and eco system services and preserving local heritage. In low income economies, given the right support, could become a country’s backbone of both rural development and national economic growth (Eve Crowley, p.21).
At the household level, farms which are designed to meet multiple needs through diversity, farms integrating resource flows, illustrate some practical models of family farms based on agroecological approaches. Sustainable integrated farming systems models being tried out by 8000 small and marginal farm families in India, Nepal and Bangladesh focus on increasing farm productivity by increasing diversification (Anshuman Das, p.8). Integrating resource flows – use of outputs from one subsystem as inputs to the other (Kamalasanan Pillai, p.12; R. Manikandan et al., p.14); integrating enterprises like pig-poultry-fish farming (p.28) are some examples. These examples highlight the multifunctionality of a family farm in its two dimensions – sustaining farm needs and making it productive as well as meeting diverse farm family needs – food income and nutrition.
Family farms as multipurpose enterprises have been serving as buffers in times of disasters, as glue of social bonding, often functioning as a ’value web’ between farming families and communities. (Robert V Bishop, p.16). Innovations are a response too – approaches like multilayer farming – growing three crops with varying germination periods and crop durations planted at different depth on the same piece of land (Singh and Negi, p. 23), redesigning of equipment to suit small farmer needs and capacities (T J James, p. 19), construction of low cost protective structures from excessive heat to grow vegetables in the homsteads (p.27) etc.
There are serious challenges too – stifling and non supportive policy environment, lack of extension system to handle the farmer’s distinct needs and capacities, and lastly ‘converting’ family farms to be ‘business like’ models. However, successful pilots can become big impact programmes, for instance, as in Andhra Pradesh, through NGO-GO collaboration (Zakir Hussain et al., p.25).