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CEJA column, Issue 3, January 2014

In this month’s regular column from CEJA (European Council of Young Farmers), Massey Ferguson speaks to Matteo Bartolini, CEJA President, about the 2014 UN International Year of Family Farming.

MF: Why is family farming important? What constitutes a family farm?
MB: CEJA has warmly welcomed the UN International Year of Family Farming initiative. It’s an issue particularly close to my heart too. We are committed to contributing to the promotion of family farming and raising awareness of its role in the world. As both the present and future of the family farming model, young farmers are particularly important to this debate and must play a fundamental role. The concept of family farming includes smallholders and medium-scale farmers whose activities are managed by a family and rely predominantly on family labour. There are over 500 million family farmers in the world, which make up 80% of all farm holdings and produce 70% of all food produced globally. These family farms provide employment and income to well over two billion people and help preserve natural resources and traditional food crops. They are essential to the protection of biodiversity. Family farmers are also among the world’s most vulnerable populations, particularly in the case of disasters or shocks such as major weather events or earthquakes.

MF: What can the International Year of Family Farming achieve?
MB: It must raise awareness of all these issues in order to change the global agricultural policy framework, particularly the importance of the next generation of farmers. The family farming sector must be made more financially attractive to young people through the use of public support, shorter supply chains and better access to land, credit and markets.

MF: What is the biggest challenge to the sustainability of family farming in Europe?
MB: Definitely the ageing demographics in the sector. Despite the family farming model, the average age of a farmer is still increasing and the number of farms is decreasing. Family farms are not getting passed on to younger generations and if they are, it’s being done too late. Succession must be eased and promoted in order to reverse the ageing trend in the agricultural population and secure future food production in Europe and beyond.

MF: How can we keep family farming alive and well in Europe?
MB: To ensure that family farming continues to contribute to Europe’s competitiveness in agriculture and our tradition of high quality, fresh, safe food, we must focus on the opportunities that an increase in young farmers can provide for the model. Securing the future of the European family farming model is vital not only in terms of continuing Europe’s tradition of supplying safe, high-quality and diverse food, but also in terms of the EU’s competitiveness on the world market. Family farming is also important for the contribution it makes to increasing added value in the agricultural sector in the form of shorter supply chains and direct sales, plus employment for young people in rural areas. This is particularly at a time when youth employment across Europe is at a worryingly high level, especially in the countryside.

MF: What can the family farm model deliver for young people?
MB: Employment, income and opportunities. Young farmers can also help modernise the sector, increase innovation through the use of technology and research and development, while being more environmentally-conscientious. This should be the focus of discussions on the sustainability of the European family farming model. Without young farmers, European family farming will not survive for much longer. It is also widely accepted that the world’s family farms will have to rise to the challenge of growing global demand for food, in particular animal protein. Family farmers should be seen as a solution to the world’s hunger problem, but this will only be achievable if the number of young people in the sector starts to increase.

MF: How will CEJA contribute to the initiative?
MB: As an associate member of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) and the chair of its young farmers’ committee, CEJA will contribute through the WFO’s seat on the UN Steering Committee on Family Farming. We will place special emphasis on the dependence the model has on young people. It is essential that youth and young farmers take centre stage in the debate.

If you would like to get in touch with Matteo Bartolini or CEJA, email allusers@ceja.eu

"There are over 500 million family farmers in the world, which make up 80% of all farm holdings and produce 70% of all food produced globally. "