From May 27th to 29th, a delegation of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) joined the Global Launch Event of UN Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF) to reiterate WFO’s openness and commitment to work with all the fellow farmers’ organizations and other relevant stakeholders to develop and implement policies to support family farmers, putting forward collective and coherent actions that can be taken during the next ten years.

The delegation, led by Theo De Jager, WFO President, included: the newly appointed WFO Board Members, Abdelmajid Ezzar, President of Union Tunisienne de l’Agriculture et de la Pêche (UTAP), Tunisia, and Sok Sotha, Vice-President of Cambodian Farmers Association – Federation of Agricultural Producers (CFAP), Cambodia; Saquina Mucavele, Executive Director of Mulher, Genero e Desenvolvimento (MuGeDe), Mozambique, and member of WFO Women Committee; Balbino Benitez Escobar, Vice President of the Union Agricola Nacional (UAN), Paraguay and Natalia Benitez, Paraguay, member of WFO Women Committee; Dick Kamuganga, President, and Kenneth Katungisa, Chief Executive Officer, under the Uganda National Farmers’ Federation (UNFEE), Uganda; Gunsham Seeborun, President of Falcon Citizen League (FCL), Mauritius.

The delegation was actively involved during the three-day event, taking the floor to represent WFO and its position within a series of sessions focused on aspects of family farming across different regions, as well as on challenges and opportunities for family farming. 

On May 29th, as member of the International Steering Committee for the implementation of the UN Decade of Family Farming, WFO in the person of its President, Theo de Jager, shared the stage with José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo, IFAD President, David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator, La via Campesina (LVC) and Martín Uriarte, President, World Rural Forum (WRF), for the official launch of the United Nations Decade of Family Farming (2019-2028), and the Global Action Plan to boost support for family farmers.

During his speech, the WFO President reminded the audience that no matter which country we come from, no matter which language we speak, in the beginning there was always family and farming, and nobody is better placed than family farmers to do to eradicate poverty by creating wealth. 

Most of all, Theo de Jager called on the farmers of the world and all the stakeholders in the agricultural sector to work together because only together it will be possible to win against hunger, poverty and malnutrition.

Here an extract of the WFO President’s inspiring speech:

“No matter which continent you come form, which language you speak, no matter the religion, the race, the culture, whichever version of the history of mankind that you would prefer, the story that we tell about ourselves all starts the same. In the beginning, there was a family, and they were farmers, raising livestock, and planting crops. They multiplied, and they spread across the globe, and they passed on knowledge and experience and expertise and skills from generation to generation. In the process, some started to specialize, and villages and towns and cities developed. And today, people across the globe, of which we are on the way to 60% of this population living in cities, can practice thousands of professions. All of this, because there are still some of us who produce food, and fiber, and fuel. Feeding the world, three times a day, 365 days a year. 

But today’s families on farms face new challenges, which those before us never had to face. Across the globe, big farmers grow bigger, and small farmers, in an ever-smaller world, in which farmers are every day in competition with the best other farmers in the world, drop out of the industry. It came to the point where it became imperative for the United Nations, especially FAO and IFAD, to launch a Decade for Family Farmers. 

The biggest war of our generation is a war on poverty and hunger, and how ironic that the very producers of that are also amongst the most vulnerable, the needy, the hungry families. It’s not that we do not have enough food in the world, but that the food is not where the people are hungry. Now, there are two approaches to this war, and it became very evident in the deliberations of the last two days. There are those who say we must raise awareness and sympathy, and we must raise more donations and development aid. Then, there are those who say we must raise the bar, we must embrace technology and modernisation and mechanization, and in the lead up to the fourth industrial revolution, the digitalization of agriculture. 

Now in the WFO we chose the latter route. We believe there’s only one way to eradicate poverty, and that’s through the creation of wealth, and there’s no sector of the economy of the world who is better positioned to do that in a shorter space of time and in a broader basis than agriculture. Very often, from the angle of a farmer, it seems that we spend too much, both in terms of money and time and energy, to keep our farmers poor. For us, there is a kind of over-romanticising of poverty, and we are surely not there to infringe poverty, we are there to eradicate it. And no one is better positioned to do that, then the current generation of family farmers. Because farmers learn more from other farmers than from anyone else. 

In the tension that we have sensed over the last three days in these deliberations, the very core was addressed in the definition of family farmers. We heard about definitions from academics and from policy makers and from the UN, some even defining it at those families who spent or who do more than 50% of the work on their farms themselves. Now we could immediately call for an answer, on why 50%, why not sixty or forty? These artificial definitions will not stand the test of time, because family farmers won’t be defined by anyone else: they want to define themselves. 

Family farmers are not necessarily poor, or wealthy. You will find them on all six of the continents. They are not archaic, or modern, they are not young or old. They have this one thing in common: they are families, practicing land-based enterprises which they own and control, to produce food, fiber and fuel, and do, by the vast majority, have their homes on their farms. Actually, the International Year of Family Farming (2014) left the world a little poorer by providing a very narrow definition of the concept of family farmers, which I sincerely hope we can break out of in the next decade. But we have a Decade for Family Farmers because, like never before, the very concept of the family farmer is being threatened to the verge of extinction: by corporations taking over and dominating entire value chains. By trade wars like our colleagues in the USA and China. By embargos, like we see with our colleagues in Russia and Europe, who are praying every day the politicians would stop using our produce to knock each other on the head every time they cannot find a solution for problems which have nothing to do with agriculture. By dumping, like the chicken and soy value chains, which really make our colleagues suffer in east Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda. By wars like in Somalia and Syria. By rebels and armed insurgents like in eastern Congo and Nigeria. By crimes disrupting entire value chains, like the avocado value chains in northern Latin America. By land grabbing, like Madagascar and elsewhere in Africa. By climate change, fires, floods, droughts and hurricanes. You see, we’ve always had these, climate change just means we have more of them, and more intense now. Spare a thought for those, who feel that their path came to an end because of threats of farm attacks and farm murders, like those in my home country of South Africa, and threats of expropriation without compensation, like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Family farmers create more jobs than anyone else in the world. In South Africa for example, we found that 10 farmers farming 10 acres each, create nearly twice as many jobs as 1 farmer farming on 100 hectares. Family farmers are the reason why we still have villages and small towns, and they keep them alive. This year, our general assembly of the WFO had the theme of the Farmers’ Route, trying to map out the way which is in the best interest of the world’s farmers. 

I want to challenge you today to follow the Farmers Route. Dream with me of a day within our lifetime when we will live in a world without hunger. A day when we would be able to say, we have slain the dragon of poverty. 

Dream with me and then roll up your sleeves and put your fingers in the soil.