GLOBAL – Family farming has been championed as an essential route to sustainable food production by prominent agriculture speakers from across Europe.
A dialogue towards more sustainable and resilient farming in Europe and the world was held in Brussels on Friday to ready the European legislative ahead of 2014 - ‘Year of family run agriculture’.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Gerd Sonnleitner, European Farmers Association (COPA) President, praised family farmers for their daily efforts to produce healthy food sustainably.
In an address to the United Nations earlier this month, Mr Sonnleitner, newly appointed UN special ambassador for family agriculture, said the UN should be the ‘lobby’ for sustainable agriculture.
He said that ‘fair’ food prices, facilitated by producer associations were prerequisite of feeding the world in the future.
Exactly how this can be done was explored by a spokesman from the Romanian sustainable farmers association Eco Ruralis, who addressed the conference on Friday.
By having a clear marketing structure and involving consumers in production, Romanian farmers are producing organic, low input food generating €30,000 incomes, he explained.
Vegetable boxes are a major part of the EcoRuralis schemes which can generate €15,000 a year for some families.
The spokesman said that preserving family farming is of particular relevance in Romania, as 60 per cent of the population is rural.
This is mostly taken up by subsistence agriculture, although he revealed that 1.2 million family farms are commercial.
“We refer to them as peasant farmers and we are proud to be peasants in Romania,” he explained.
Eluding to Romania’s communist past, he warned that agricultural cooperatives represented an ideological challenge, but that family farms will persist due to durability.
“Family farms survive through struggles because they know how to adapt and diversify,” he explained.
The importance of widening farmer demographics to include more women and younger people was discussed by Helenna Jonsson, President of the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF).
Citing Sweden as an example, she explained how women can be empowered through agriculture to strengthen the family farm nucleus.
While acknowledging cultural differences across the world, she said that communication is important to address the objectives and desires of women in agriculture.
She explained that Sweden was ahead of much of the EU in the equality stakes, stating that the LRF board had a 50:50 representation of male and female members and had also grown in young members.
As to how this can be achieved elsewhere, she said: “Member states must provide support for assisting spouses as well as the head of the farm. Social benefit contributions and taxation will be needed.”
This is vital in husband/wife or sister/brother partnerships, she added.
Mrs Jonsson said that male farmers have a disproportionate dominance in decision making and representation - women do a lot but are practically ‘invisible’.
For other member states, there are two changes that need to occur.
Firstly, is a legislative response, allowing female propriety and inheritance. Secondly, cultural adjustment and renewal is essential, stressed Mrs Jonsson.
Culture is at the heart of farming’s future and encapsulates the importance of people, the land and provenance.
This is according to Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales who, in his message to the conference, stressed the importance of family farming in producing food, landscapes and sustainable economies.
He said that technology would allow family farms to flourish at the centre of the food chain as small businesses are positioned to adapt to changing markets.
“New technology is on the side of the farming family,” said Prince Charles. “Information sharing is enabling business to target supply and demand in a new way.”
He said this mimics how nature works, by starting processes at the roots.
“This is in stark contrast to large scale business,” he said.
“Agriculture should be part of a country’s culture and be intimately related to people’s lives, communities and local identity.”
He concluded: “It is now up to the European Commission to demonstrate how family farmers are central towards greater sustainability and more resilient economies that our world needs.”
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