Much of agricultural policy is rooted in a view that considers small farms as inefficient. Efficiency and productivity in agriculture, it is argued, can only be delivered by consolidating land, using advanced technology, investing in large-scale irrigation and massive fertilization, and encouraging monoculture in big-scale farms.After 50 years of applying these practices globally, however, this dictum of conventional wisdom on agriculture is being questioned more than ever before. Simply adding to the pile of food and promoting monocultural crops will not end hunger or malnutrition. Efficiency and quantity-based agricultural policy alone might solve acute hunger for a while, but cannot eradicate chronic and hidden hunger forever, let alone move towards sustainable resource use, food security, and social and economic equity in a dramatically unequal world.
The world is increasingly hungry and malnourished because small farmers are losing access to farmland. According to a new report by GRAIN, Hungry for Land, small farmers produce most of the world’s food but are now squeezed onto less than 25 percent of the world’s farmland: “The overwhelming majority of farming families today have less than two hectares to cultivate and that share is shrinking. Corporate and commercial farms, big biofuel operations and land speculators are pushing millions off their land.”
The report claims that small farmers could feed all nine billion people expected to be on the planet in 2050, provided they have the land, support, participation in decision making, financial, and technological power. But the current global food system is not set up to support them or designed to feed the most people, but rather to provide fuels and food for western markets.
Fortunately in recent years the important role of small farmers in relation to food security is finally being acknowledged in the US and Europe. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) celebrated the year of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming.
Even in the US – where global agroindustries dominate - the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has undertaken several initiatives to support local and regional food systems. “Know Your Farmers, Know Your Food Initiative” coordinates government policy, resources, and outreach efforts related to local and regional food systems.
Besides high nutritious value and reduced fossil fuel use, the “local food” movement from Oregon to Vermont is creating an exciting new laboratory for agricultural innovation. Small farming is even becoming profitable, with recent financial crises prompting many young Americans to return to rural life as they faced difficulty in finding jobs and housing in cities. The rural sector provides food.
In a sustainable world, the rural and urban sectors must support each other. With modernity and industrialization, urban areas experienced unprecedented growth, while rural communities, dependent on agriculture, were left behind. A large portion of the rural population migrated to cities, which overwhelmed the infrastructures of many cities. Especially in developing world rapid urbanization poses huge environmental challenges.
To reverse such a trend, governments and civil society should encourage rural life. Young farmers should be given subsidies to enable their return to the countryside. Although, it is difficult for most governments to oppose the logic of competitive markets skewed to favour the big agroindustries, it is clear that a food policy based on everyone – except the most powerful – becoming food importers is neither just, effective nor sustainable. It is time to break with failed practices and refocus agricultural policy towards supporting those who produce the majority of world’s food, the small-scale farmers.
'Breaking with failed practices' in all areas is the call from The World Socialist Movement and SOYMB. In reality this means breaking with the capitalist system totally in order to bring democracy to the population of the world. SOYMB and Africa's Socialist Banner posts frequently on matters related to 'small', 'peasant' farmers, family farmers and land holders and the many associated problems with land grabbing, transnational corporations, environmental degradation, poverty and disenfranchisement. Food, being one of our most basic needs, is recognised within the capitalist system as an area ripe for exploitation for profit, at whatever cost to the environment, the producers and the consumers alike. A socialist system, on the other hand, will celebrate the achievement of sufficient, healthy food for all produced by farmers freed from the monetary yoke.