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HOPE for Family Farming.

Byline: Jose Rene C. Gayo

The United Nations (UN) dedicated 2014 as International Year of Family Farming. The UN hopes to highlight the important role of family farming in feeding the world and assuring food security.

After decades of failed attempts to eradicate hunger, many groups-including governments, development agencies, research institutions, business, non-profit organizations and donor communities-now see family farming as key to alleviating global poverty and hunger.

An article entitled "Family farming: The key to alleviating hunger and poverty" cited that according to a landmark World Bank report, an increase of one percent in agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) reduces poverty by four times as much as the same percentage increase in non-agricultural GDP.

The same article mentioned that Food Tank and FAO present five effective ways for NGOs, the funding and donor communities, and policy-makers to invest more effectively in family farming:

1. Promote sustainable agriculture methods. New farming methods, such as agro ecology or ecological intensification, increase yields while reducing environmental impacts. In an analysis of 40 projects and programs, sustainable techniques like agroforestry and soil conservation were found to increase yields for African smallholder farmers.

2. Assist family farmers in adapting to climate change and short-term climate variability. Climate change will have large-scale effects on agriculture everywhere and particularly on poor farmers in developing countries. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Farmer Field Schools teaching smallholder farmers sustainable practices in land and water management have proven highly effective in managing input (such as pesticides) more effectively while increasing yields and incomes.

3. Promote policies to provide smallholders with legal titles to their land. At least one billion poor people lack secure rights to land. Securing legal land rights for family farmers can increase productivity, investment in land and family income.

4. Increase access to local markets. The small-scale production volumes of family farmers require value chains of appropriate scale. Farmers markets or Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) can provide a great venue for family farmers to sell their products directly to consumers.

5. Close the gender gap. Women farmers do not have the same access to credit, land, inputs and extension services as their male counterparts. According to FAO, closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger.

I am hoping that many groups in the Philippines can do something along these interventions just cited to help family farms.

Advocates of Family Farming in the Philippines

Since 2009, the Foundations for People Development (FPD) and the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) embarked on a project to train children of poor farmers and equip them to be the next generation of farm supervisors, farm managers and agripreneurs.

This project is also meant to strengthen the earlier gains made by the Family Farm Schools when it was introduced in the country in 1988. Thanks to their persevering effort, a new law was passed last year to institutionalize this system of education in our country when P-Noy signed into law the Rural Farm Schools Act.

While the Family Farm Schools focus on providing a high school education, the program supported by ATI-FPD focuses on a post-secondary program leading to a Diploma in Farm Business Management or a Diploma in Entrepreneurship. The latter is offered in three venues: MFI Farm Business School in Jala-Jala, Rizal; W.B. Dawson Farm Business School in Puerto Princesa City; and Catholic Ming Yuan College in Murcia, Negros Occidental. It is significant to note that in these programs, prominence is given to the family farms.

But here's the paradox. While family farms play a crucial role in resolving world hunger, they are also those most likely to fall victim to hunger and poverty. An estimated 800 million people living below the global poverty line work in the agricultural sector. In the Philippines, while a third of the labor force finds sustenance in agriculture, they only contribute to about a tenth of the country's GDP. Thus, the great majority of the poor are farmers and fisherfolk.

HOPE for Family Farming

The FPD launched earlier this year its "Seeds of HOPE" project to make available vegetable seeds to farmers-victims of typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. HOPE stands for Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement. Following this project, FPD is advocating "HOPE for Family Farming" as a poverty alleviation strategy for Filipino farmers. Truly, there is hope for these farmers. I see these developments are harbingers of HOPE.

In the Philippines, aside from those I have already mentioned, I see the following developments that shall usher hope for family farming.

1. Organic agriculture. Farmers who have adopted organic agriculture methods reported that production cost is much lower than conventional farming because chemical fertilizers and pesticides which are expensive are not needed anymore. Furthermore, there is premium in terms of product price for organic produce.

The Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 originally sponsored by then Cong. Proceso Alcala (now DA Secretary) provides government support and incentives for those farmers shifting to organic agriculture.

2. Farm tourism. Farms practicing organic agriculture are more attractive to tourists. This means extra income from entrance fees and food consumed inside the farm by visitors. Thus, farmers are realizing that if one can grow vegetables and animals in the farm, they can also "grow" visitors. Visitors are also more likely to patronize "pick and pay" farm products. The ATI has taken the lead here.

There are a number of bills pending in Congress that shall institutionalize and provide support to farm tourism programs in the Philippines. I hope these will be acted on by our legislators soon.

3. Learning centers. Aside from farm tourists, organic farms also attract people who are willing to pay to work and train in the farm. Farmers earn extra income from such arrangements for training fees, board and lodging.

The ATI has been at the forefront in establishing Schools for Practical Agriculture and accrediting model family farms as learning centers. Farmers themselves are the teachers and their own farms as farms-schools.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 26, 2014
Words:990
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