Rome - Nine out of ten of the world\'s 570 million farms are managed by families, making the family farm the predominant of agriculture, and consequently a potentially crucial agent of change in achieving sustainable food security and in eradicating hunger in the future, according to a new U.N. report released today.
Family farms produce about 80 percent of the world\'s food. Their prevalence and output mean they "are vital to the solution of the hunger problem" afflicting more than 800 million people, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva wrote in the introduction to FAO\'s new State of Food and Agriculture 2014 report.
The report calls for the public sector, working with farmers, civil society organizations and the private sector, to improve innovation systems for agriculture. Agricultural innovation systems include all the institutions and actors that support farmers in developing and adopting better ways of working in today\'s increasingly complex world. Innovation capacity must be promoted at various levels, with incentives for farmers, researchers, advisory service providers and integrated value chains to interact and create networks and partnerships to share information, SOFA says.
Policy makers must also consider the diversity of family farms in terms of size, technologies used, and integration into markets, as well as their ecological and socio-economic settings.
Family farms are vital
The FAO report offers a rich set of new details about family farms. Most family farms are small. Eighty-four percent of the world\'s farms are less than two hectares in size.
Small farms produce a higher share of the world\'s food relative to the share of land they use, as they tend to have higher yields than larger farms within the same countries and agro-ecological settings.
However, the higher productivity of land on family farms involves lower labor productivity, which perpetuates poverty and hinders development. Much of the world\'s food production involves of unpaid labor by family members.
The report emphasizes that it is imperative to boost output per worker, especially in low-income countries, in order to lift farm incomes and expand rural economic welfare in general.
Currently, farm sizes are becoming smaller and smaller in most developing countries, where many smallholder farm households derive the bulk of their income from off-farm activities.
Policies meant to catalyze innovation will need to go beyond technology transfer, according to SOFA. They must also be inclusive and tailored to local contexts, so that farmers have ownership of innovation, and take gender and intergenerational issues into consideration, involving youth in the future of the agricultural sector.