In the spirit of FAO’s International Year of Family Farming the Swedish celebration of the World Food Day in Stockholm put young farmers in the center and highlighted their importance for sufficient food supply for the growing global population now and in the future.
The event took place at the Government Offices in the center of Stockholm and was convened by the Swedish FAO Committee and SIANI. The invited speakers ranged from the State Secretary for the Ministry for Rural Affairs through agriculture scholars to young farmers from around the world.
In her opening remarks the newly appointed State Secretary, Ms. Elisabeth Backteman, opened underlined the importance of family farming around the world, in view of 800 million people being under-nourished, according to recent FAO figures. Ms. Backteman also highlighted women’s vital role in agricultural production and food security, stressing the need to strengthen their right to own and inherit land. The theme Family Farming was illustrated by a short video from FAO.
“Despite the transition from subsistence smallholder farms to bigger commercial units and switch from traditional to modern agricultural techniques, a family run agricultural business remains an important production unit” -pointed out Dr. Camilla Eriksson from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Reference was also made to the new EU Common Agricultural Policy opening up new opportunities for family farming through focusing more on agri-environmental payments to compensate farmers for their production of natural and cultural heritage as well as biodiversity.
The structure of family owned agri business is similar across the world, and family farms are equally important in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Family farms are not just the poor countries phenomenon, in fact, according to Eurostat data, the majority of the EU’s 12 billion farms are family farms.
Like any form of family enterprise, family farming depends on the youth to take over from their parents, both in affluent as well as in low-income countries. However, farming is not the most attractive career path for many, and young people often rush for jobs in cities. While youth are abandoning agriculture, family farms become less resilient and more vulnerable to market shocks and environmental risks. Yet people will always need food, so there will always be a demand for farming.
The three young farmers from Sweden, Thailand and Uganda – and a film presenting two farmers from Colombia – contributed to an understanding of the life and struggles of young farming in four continents.
Ms. Mikaela Johnsson a pig farmer from Småland, Sweden, talked about the importance of diversifying farming activities and how she and her family manage the farm as a company, including aspects of business administration as an integrated part of the work: “The big challenge is to attract people to the sector – both women and young people, and the key for attractiveness is profitability” However, despite the hard work and tough competition on the market and the dominance of city life issues over rural development, she thinks working on the land, applying her skills and taking care of animals is a privilege.
Ms. Supisra Arayaphong, a master graduate in sustainable development and agricultural economics from Bangkok was new to farming, with no prior experiences she started to cultivate land to grow rice. Her interest for farming began as a schoolgirl and after an academic education in Bangkok and Uppsala she began to look for an opportunity to start farming ecological rice and vegetables as the prices for these products was very high in the city. Through negotiation and trust from local farmers Ms Supisra now cultivates rice using an ecological and systematic method, which she brands and markets in Bangkok. Successful application of the sustainable rice production method and trustful partnership with the local farmers Supisra has now extended her cultivation area to vegetables.
Mr. Denis Kabiito is a weekend farmer from Uganda with 15 hectares of arable land, also active in the World Farmers’ Organization. Being trained in biology and agriculture, he now works with young as well as old farmers in Uganda for the Christian Aid organization, Diakonia. He pointed out the importance of recruiting young farmers and finding ways to make farming an attractive future occupation as well as the challenges related to it such as, for example, changing focus of educational systems on agriculture. Furthermore Mr. Kabiito pointed out that “land distribution amongst many family members in Africa, resulting in too small plots to make farming profitable is an issue too. Other difficulties include adapting to the already noticeable climate change as well as land rights issues. Focus must be on facilitating small-scale farmers’ access to markets, agriculture finance, improved facilities and capacity building aimed to reach food safety standards as well as reducing logistic costs. We need more business partnerships and less aid.”
A short film presented by the Swedish Lutheran Church told the story about two young farmers in northern Colombia. They started a youth group organization to learn more about ecological farming and overall sustainable farming. Their biggest obstacle was distribution and selling their farm products to a fair price at a convenient time, having to face the difficulties of ongoing armed conflicts in the area.
Commonalities among all these young farmers were associated with the market: how to market their products? How to attract consumers? How to get the best prices for the produce?
It is, however, not only the market that poses challenges to the future transformation of the family farming. Environmental hazards associated with climate change are also a worry of family farmers around the world. Mr. Lennart Ackzell from Swedish Federation of Forest Owners pointed out that “deforestation, driven by demand for food, fiber and fuel are leading to degraded ecosystems, soil erosion, less available water and fire wood, which, in its turn, impair food security”. Agroforestry and climate-smart agriculture can contribute to long resilience of family farms and agriculture around the globe.
After a panel discussion with all the participants answering questions from the audience Ms. Christina Furustam from the Swedish FAO Committee and Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF), concluded the seminar with a brief summary and some closing remarks, stressing the importance of attracting young people into food production by changing attitudes and building a new image around agriculture: “Young people in family farming must believe in the future of food production!”