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International Encounters on Family Farming and Research: Some reflections

In the context of the International Year of Family Farming, the research institutions of Montpellier’s Agropolis International took the initiative to organize a conference, ‘International encounters on Family Farming and Research’ in Montepellier, France during 1-3 June 2014. The event was organised with the support of the French Ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, CIRAD, CGIAR Consortium and World Rural Forum.

In their own words, the organizing committee said, “The meeting is aimed to i) foster exchanges between representatives of family farming, decision makers from the political and private sectors, representatives of civil society, trainers and researchers throughout the world and ii) to question and enhance research agendas dealing with family farming issues and the challenges of global change (society, economics, food security, urbanization, human mobility and migrations, nutrition and health, climate change etc.).”

The workshop participants included a mix of leaders from farmer organizations and networks, NGOs, researchers and academics, policy makers and private sector.

I was invited by CIRAD, France, CGIAR consortium and GFAR to chair a workshop theme during the conference. The theme identified was ‘In house issues in Family farming’ which primarily dealt with how research agendas be suitably modified to meet the needs of youth and women while appreciating the various contextual and social dimensions.

On request by the international organizing committee, a discussion note was prepared, under tight timelines. This was approved and circulated prior to the conference to all the participants. The tasks during the conference included, chairing the subtheme workshops, with the help of a facilitator, summarizing the multicontextual, multilingual (Spanish, French, English) perspectives and priorities into a cogent and a ‘representative’ presentation during the plenaries to around 250 participants from all over the World. It was a great opportunity to learn from each other as well as share perspectives with heads of research from prestigious institutions. The seven sub themes identified on Family Farming (FF) were highly relevant and inclusive. They were:

1. FF in the territories

2. FF and sustainable intensification

3. In-house issues within FF

4. FF facing the challenges of urbanization and employment

5. FF facing the challenges of climate change

6. Contribution of FF to the food systems

7. FF as one of the players in the future of agriculture.

One of the highlights of the conference was the open public meeting on June 1st, with a keynote presentation by 1995 World Food Prize and 2013 Right Livelihood Award winner Dr Hans Rudolf Herren, followed by roundtable debate of the issues that he raised. Other prominent and compelling ‘evidence based presentations were by FAO, GFAR, IFAD, CIRAD etc. Perspectives from heads of farmer organizations, international NGOs and political leaders, added depth and substance to the debate.

The group on ‘In- house issues in Family Farming’ articulated the following priority areas for research/ research methods, especially with small holders and agroecological approaches – recognising the importance of context and constituency specific research; understanding the differential needs and abilities of the communities; recognising complex social issues including resource access, entitlement and knowledge; need for farmer centric participatory research based on mutual respect towards alternative knowledge systems; research ‘validating’ field phenomena (eg. SRI), focusing on cyclical and systemic research rather than linear models alone; and, governance issues where research needs to closely work with farmer organizations and civil societies. There were several other important issues which emerged from other workshop themes which include: land tenures and landscapes, agroecological intensification, multifunctionality, rural urban movements, consumers role and food preferences, climate change – preparedness, resilience and mitigation, democratic governance processes.

The meeting was unique in three ways:

1. It was an opportunity when global research organizations ‘heard’ the contextual perspectives and realities

2. Plenaries had presentations by visionaries on the present as well as the future relevance of family farming and small holder ecological agriculture

3. Unlike several other mainstream conferences, the organizers made serious efforts in collating field perspectives through sub theme workshops.

However, one limiting factor was, the time available for discussions and debates in plenary presentations.

K V S Prasad

Executive Director, AME Foundation and Chief Editor, LEISA India
Email: leisaindia@yahoo.co.in