【Editorial】The United Nations’ Decade of Family Farming 2019-2028 offers chance to rethink the future of agriculture (Dec. 27, 2017)

The United Nations has adopted the period between 2019 and 2028 as the Decade of Family Farming. Japan, which is accelerating structural reform including expanding the size of farms, should recognize this global trend and put priority of agricultural policies on family farming. We should make this an opportunity to think about the future directions of agriculture.

In 2015, the U.N. member states adopted a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty and hunger as well as protecting the global environment, with specific targets to be achieved by 2030. In achieving the SDGs, this time the members acknowledged the importance of the role of family farms, which produce most of the world’s food.

The U.N. had already been focusing on family farms in 2011, when it declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. It was aimed at raising the profile of family farming by attracting world attention to its significant role in eradicating hunger and managing natural resources.

According to “The State of Food and Agriculture 2014: Innovation in Family Farming” – a report compiled by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization – family farms “are by far the most prevalent form of agriculture in the world.” Estimates suggest that they produce more than 80 percent of the world’s food in value terms. In addition to providing global food security and nutrition, family farms are playing a vital role in a wide range of areas such as protecting the environment and biodiversity and revitalizing regional areas.

As the global flows of people, goods and money accelerate, family farming is getting more attention as market fundamentalism and trade liberalization are reaching their limits. Growth of large-scale commercial farming led to widening gaps between large farms and those who were left behind the times. Excessive land development destroyed the ecosystems, making the global environment and the society itself vulnerable. The sense of crisis over the current situation has prompted the U.N. to come up with SDGs.

International prices of farm produce and food products are fluctuating violently, and the world is hit by large-scale disasters brought about by climate change. Japan is experiencing an aging society, a decline in working-age population and a serious depopulation mainly in rural communities. The nation is at a risk of not being able to achieve sustainable agriculture, with its food self-sufficiency rate being low and its farm industry weakening. Now is the time to highlight, support and utilize the power of family farming which has continuously been the foundation of agriculture.

Small and Family Farming Network Japan is a group of people who stood up in Japan to promote the role and potential of family farming in line with the initiative under the U.N.’s Decade of Family Farming. In mid-December, six months after its establishment, the group organized a meeting in Tokyo to learn about the global trend of family farming and study its values. The attendants of the meeting learned that international conferences on family farming are held in various countries and many developed countries are moving to implement support measures. They shared the view that it is necessary to spread the importance of family farming also in Japan.

The Japanese government is proceeding with high-level free trade talks including the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the Japan-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement. It is taking measures to facilitate expansion of farm size and increase of efficiency with the aim of strengthening competitiveness. But is it enough to rely only on such a single-track policy? Policymakers should also turn their eyes to family farmers. Broad-minded agricultural policies are needed to hand over sustainable food and farming to future generations.

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